SFA sets sights on ACU in penultimate 2015 regular season tilt

SFA sets sights on ACU in penultimate 2015 regular season tilt

From SFA Athletics

NACOGDOCHES, TX (Press release) - With the final week of the 2015 regular season in full swing for the Stephen F. Austin volleyball team, a level of on-court consistency that wasn't necessarily present and accounted for in the early stages of the campaign is now a tool the Ladyjacks have added to their arsenal. 

After four of its first five Southland Conference matches of the season needed to be settled in five sets, SFA is meshing and receiving a dose of high-level play night in and night out. Winners of six of its last seven confrontations, SFA will keep the goal of consistent play at the forefront when it welcomes Abilene Christian into Shelton Gym on Thursday evening.

"We hit about three things over the course of last week that we needed to improve on to make sure we're playing our best volleyball come tournament time next week," head coachDebbie Humphreys stated. "With that in mind, it was great to see to see our team transfer what we had done in practice into the matches.

"Offensively we were able to get everyone going and generating some kills. If we want to have success in the conference tournament, we have to continue to get contributions from all of our hitting positions and from everywhere else on the court."

SFA vs. Abilene Christian: Thursday night will signal the fifth meeting ever between the Ladyjacks and Wildcats in a series, which is in its third year of existence. Every one of the previous meetings has resulted in an SFA triumph, the latest of which occurred in Abilene on Saturday, Oct. 3, when the Ladyjacks staged an incredible comeback after falling behind 2-0 to earn a 3-2 triumph over their Southland Conference foes. That particular match marked the first five-set bout ever between the two league contenders.

Scouting Abilene Christian: Once Southland Conference play commenced, the Wildcats shook off their 0-13 start and registered quite the impressive turnaround by amassing an 8-6 showing in league battles. Although ineligible for the postseason as it is in the midst of its final transition season from NCAA Division II to Division I, ACU has proven itself to be one of the top-tier SLC squads by remaining in fourth place in the league standings as the final week of regular season volleyball gets underway. Leading the way in ACU's brigade of attackers is senior Jennifer Loerch who boasts a kills per set figure of 3.47. Only two other SLC student-athletes possess a better average than that of Loerch who also checks in at third in the Wildcats' ranks in terms of digs per set (2.06). In all, there are six ACU players who have totaled 34 or more blocks this season and the Wildcats' top pair of front row defenders – Lauren Walker and Lexi Mercier – combine to form a solid defensive presence to try and negate opposing offenses. Walker averages 2.09 kills per set and leads ACU with 96 blocks (0.96/set) while Mercier's 91 stuffs (0.91/set) rank second on the team. Stationed at the pin opposite of Loerch is Kendall Bosse who brings 2.26 kills per set to the proverbial table. Back row defensive efforts are bolstered mainly by Madison Hoover (4.97 digs/set) and Sarah Siemens (2.56 digs/set).

Humphreys on Abilene Christian: "We have to maintain the same consistency level that we've had over the past few matches and that's something we struggled with early back when we played ACU on the road. Now as tournament time nears, we're coming out and there's a performance level we expect to hit and we aren't dipping down beneath that level. It has taken us a while to get to that point this season, but at least we're there now heading into the tournament."

Abilene Christian in the Southland: Below is how the Wildcats rank statistically in various categories among the 13-team conference:

All Matches
Hitting Percentage - .162 (12th)
Opponent Hitting Percentage - .221 (13th)
Assists – 11.24 (10th)
Kills/Set – 12.16 (7th)
Blocks/Set – 2.10 (4th)
Service Aces/Set – 1.06 (12th)
Digs/Set – 14.68 (7th)

Conference Matches Only
Hitting Percentage – .183 (10th)
Opponent Hitting Percentage – .190 (4th)
Assists – 12.11 (3rd)
Kills/Set – 12.86 (4th)
Blocks/Set – 2.06 (5th)
Service Aces/Set – 1.12 (7th)
Digs/Set – 16.11 (4th)

Last Time Out: A measure of revenge was exacted on Northwestern State by SFA on Saturday afternoon in Shelton Gym as the Ladyjacks rolled to a 3-0 victory over their longtime rivals from Natchitoches. With the convincing win, SFA put a stop to the Lady Demons' two-match winning streak in the all-time series and did so with every piece of their offense firing in an effective fashion. Makenzee Hanna posted a match-best 13 kills andJustice Walker added 12 on a hitting percentage of .524 as part of an SFA attack that hammered down winners at a percentage of .394. With the win, the Ladyjacks ensured themselves no lower than the number-three seed for the Southland Conference Tournament.

Stacking Up in the Southland: Below is how the Ladyjacks rank statistically in various categories among the 13-team conference:

All Matches
Hitting Percentage - .214 (3rd)
Opponent Hitting Percentage - .193 (4th)
Assists – 11.54 (5th)
Kills/Set – 12.23 (5th)
Blocks/Set – 2.07 (5th)
Service Aces/Set – 1.06 (11th)
Digs/Set – 16.13 (2nd)

Conference Matches Only
Hitting Percentage – .223 (3rd)
Opponent Hitting Percentage – .202 (7th)
Assists – 11.75 (9th)
Kills/Set – 12.45 (9th)
Blocks/Set – 2.40 (2nd)
Service Aces/Set – 0.84 (12th)
Digs/Set – 16.11 (4th)

Walker's Wild Week: For the first time this season, junior Justice Walker found herself on the receiving end of a Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Week citation following a stretch of two amazing outings. Last Thursday evening against Lamar, the Fort Worth, Texas, product reset her career high by victimizing the Cardinals' defense with a 21-kill assault that led SFA to a 3-1 win. By adding another 12 kills to her weekly sum in the Ladyjacks' 3-0 triumph over Northwestern State on Saturday afternoon, Walker finished with 33 of SFA's 100 kills over that two-match span. Efficiency was one of the junior's calling cards a week ago, too, as she hit at a clip of .545.

Freshman Firepower: Relatively quiet through the first half of the season, freshmanMakenzee Hanna has burst onto the scene for the Ladyjacks over the last nine matches to become a primary factor in SFA's winning equation. With Hanna stationed on the right side, the Ladyjacks have rolled to a mark of 6-3 and have not taken part in a match over four sets in length. In those nine tilts, the DeSoto, Texas, product has failed to register a kill just once and has amassed 10 or more terminations in all but two matches. Swinging at a clip of .306 in that span, Hanna has averaged 2.76 kills per set.

OJ2K: Having the services of one of the best defensive players in the nation is something the Ladyjacks have relied on heavily this season, and senior libero OJ Olson has established herself as one of the best players to ever don an SFA uniform through the course of this particular campaign. With her first dig in SFA's 3-0 non-conference win over Grambling State on Oct. 28, the Cedar Park, Texas, joined an exclusive club as the third SFA player to amass 2,000 digs in a career. On SFA's all-time digs list, Olson has dove for the third-most digs ever (2,069) and needs 124 more to surge past Madison Hanlan into second place on the list. Just five other NCAA Division I volleyball players has bettered Olson's dig total of 593 this season, and the senior's digs per set average of 5.16 is the second-highest in the 13-team SLC and 18th in the nation. Additionally, Olson's 593 digs are the sixth-most ever in a single season in SFA volleyball history.

Shelton Success: As of late, there haven't been an abundance of squads that can claim to have emerged with a victory in SFA's home digs of Shelton Gym. In 2014 and 2015, the Ladyjacks have racked up an enviable record of 20-2 in the venerable facility. That breaks down to a 9-1 mark in 2014 and a 11-1 showing this time around and against SLC institutions, SFA's record of 13-1 over the past two seasons works out to a winning percentage of .929.

Middle Ground: It's no secret that the Ladyjacks will work the ball to their middles, but despite that piece of public knowledge, senior Jacque Allen and junior Justice Walker haven't seen many opponents who can slow them down. Between the two of them, one-fifth of the top 10 hitters in the Southland Conference are represented as Walker ranks sixth in the league with an attack percentage of .318. Allen isn't far behind as she sits in eighth with a hitting percentage of .316. In SLC matches, Walker's striking mark of .314 is the ninth-highest figure in the league.

Both have eclipsed 275 kills and Walker leads SFA with an average of 2.77 per set while Allen's per-set average of 2.46 is second only to Walker. In terms of blocking, Allen owns the fourth-best blocks per set average (1.01) in the 13-team league and her 113 total rejections are the 57th-most among all NCAA Division I volleyball players. On SFA's all-time career blocks charts, Allen ranks second in solo rejections (86), 10th in block assists (339) and sixth in total blocks (425).

Can I Help You?: With a multitude of weapons on the Ladyjacks' offense to choose from, junior setter Shannon Connell has amassed some 873 assists. That's the 120th-highest total in all of NCAA Division I volleyball and her 9.59 assists per frame have her ranked fourth in the 13-team Southland Conference.

The 600 Club: The architect of the Ladyjacks' success, Debbie Humphreys is in the midst of her 28th season as SFA's head coach and earlier in 2015 she reached a coaching benchmark that few in the NCAA can claim to have laid claim to. With a 3-0 triumph over Columbia in Shelton Gym on Saturday, Sept. 5, Humphreys secured her 600th career coaching victory. Currently, Humphreys is the 16th-winningest active coach at the NCAA Division I level with a record of 615-315 (.661).

Preseason All-SLC: A grand total of four SFA volleyball players – seniors Tori Bates, OJ Olsonand Jacque Allan as well as junior Justice Walker – were slotted into the Preseason All-Southland Conference teams prior to the beginning of the 2015 campaign. Allen, Olson and Walker earned first team recognition while Bates took up one of the six spots on the second team. No league squad boasted more All-SLC preseason picks than SFA.

Southland Seeding Story: There is now no equation in which the Ladyjacks can finish worse than the number three seed for the eight-team Southland Conference Tournament. There is, however, a possibility for SFA to elevate itself into the second seed, but that would require a pair of Ladyjack wins and at least one setback from Central Arkansas who closes out its regular season on the road at Southeastern Louisiana and at New Orleans.

Up Next: Saturday afternoon counts as the conclusion of the 2015 regular season for the Ladyjacks as they host Incarnate Word at noon. That particular match also serves as the final Shelton Gym appearance for SFA's four seniors – Jacque Allen, Tori Bates, Jordan McArdle andOJ Olson. Those four student-athletes will be honored in a brief ceremony prior to the start of the Southland Conference match.

Courtesy: SFA Athletics