Friday, October 4, 2013

#ASunVB Telling Good Stories Nearing Midpoint of Season

Everyone loves a good story.

Stories give meaning to something, and they usually share emotion. Often they even give us something or someone to cheer for.

There are many good stories emanating from the Atlantic Sun Conference already in 2013-14, but you have to look no further than A-Sun volleyball for some of the more intriguing story lines so far this fall.

Success always makes for a good story, and during the first month of the season there have been several developing storylines from A-Sun volleyball to highlight. In fact, look no further than recent news from the A-Sun and its top five teams in the current standings for a handful of stories that include success, drama, intrigue and suspense.

First came the A-Sun’s 16-match volleyball package on ESPN3. Through its relationship with the multi-screen sports network, the A-Sun continues to enhance its role as a leader in on-campus production. The conference became the first to adopt the conference-wide on-campus production model, and the commitment to the initiative has resulted in a 300 percent increase in television-caliber live productions since 2011. The schedule also rivals that of any of the NCAA’s 31 Division I conferences.

The A-Sun continues to provide additional original content that includes a myriad of conference and nonconference matches that has grown to a total of 19 matches. Four matches produced on campus have already appeared on ESPN3, including a pair from both USC Upstate and Lipscomb. Kennesaw State’s first on-campus production is scheduled for tonight, as the Owls host third-place Jacksonville at 7 p.m. (EST).

Like a good underdog story? Then you will love the rags-to-riches story of A-Sun leader Stetson. Picked to finish last in the 2013 preseason coaches’ poll, admittedly the Stetson volleyball team’s success has it venturing into uncharted territory. The Hatters quickly surpassed last year’s win total in just the second week of the season, and went on to post their best start in 17 years. The Hatters were 13-5 for the first time in school history (records date back to 1980, program dates back to 1970) prior to their loss to FAU on Tuesday, which was their first loss since Sept. 14. They are also 9-0 at home for the first-time ever, and 4-0 in the league for the first time since 2002.

The team has also had four A-Sun Player of the Week honorees, seven all-tournament team selections, and senior Kaley Melville is now the fifth player in school history to surpass 1000 kills and 1000 digs. Melville is also second to ETSU’s Megan Devine on the career active leader list in kills.

Win streaks also make for entertaining storylines, and the conference has a couple of those to speak of as well. Defending champ ETSU got off to a slow start in 2013, posting a 4-6 mark before finding the spark at the Lady Vol Classic in mid-September. The Bucs topped Austin Peay and host Tennessee in the last two matches of that tournament, and began a five-game win streak that continues into the weekend. Then you can throw in the unique story of Bucs’ Head Coach Lindsey Devine becoming ETSU’s leader in coaching victories this season while her daughter Megan Devine, the reigning A-Sun Player of the Year, is now 88 kills away from becoming the A-Sun career kill leader.

Through the first few weeks of the season for FGCU, the story was “What is wrong with the preseason favorites?” For the second straight season the Eagles’ start has been rocky, last year entering conference play at 4-7 and this season at 1-10. FGCU’s nonconference schedule this season was a difficult one, including three Top-25 teams in Penn State, Florida State and Ohio State. Last year the Eagles rebounded from their slow start and won 15 straight matches and 18 of their last 20 to claim the A-Sun regular season title. 

This year FGCU began the conference season 0-1 but has claimed three straight A-Sun matches to place the Eagles in a tie for third with Jacksonville. If they are looking forward to a repeat performance, however, the Eagles will have to get past a red-hot Stetson who awaits their 6 p.m. match-up in DeLand tonight.

Other than Stetson’s early success, Jacksonville’s Dolphins may be a bit of a surprise as well to those on the outside looking in. Picked to finish fifth in the preseason coaches’ poll, JU jumped out to a 9-0 start and was one of only 12 remaining undefeated teams in the NCAA when they fell to UCF on Sept. 18. Since that loss they have gone 3-1 and sit in a tie for third place in the A-Sun at 3-1 and 12-2 overall.

Like Stetson, the Dolphins make it happen with outstanding play and leadership from players such as senior Kendall Courtney and sophomore Sammie Strausbaugh. Courtney is the only player who is a career active leader in two categories (assists and aces), while Strausbaugh is the current A-Sun Player of the Week and the reigning Freshman of the Year.

Then there is Lipscomb, quietly sitting at 2-1 in the A-Sun and 8-5 overall but certainly not off anyone’s radar and poised to make a charge at any time. Winners of three of the last four A-Sun titles, the Lady Bisons have led the nation for three consecutive weeks in kills per game and have ranked third in the same time frame in assists per game. Jewell Dobson and Caitlin Dotson are also among the nation’s best three offensive categories, as Dotson is second nationally in assists and Dobson is eighth in kills and ninth in points per game. The Lady Bisons could be lying in wait as they enter a five-match home stand this weekend, poised to make a move as they reach the halfway point of the 2013 season.

A writer named Joseph Campbell once explained that we tell stories because we are fascinated by the hero’s journey. For the A-Sun, there are certainly journeys worth following at the midpoint of the 2013 season. There is the conference’s story of its commitment to leadership in the area of campus production and digital delivery. The feel-good story of a team making a dramatic turnaround is always a favorite, while many choose the intrigue of which teams can sustain their success or recapture the magic that led them to recent success. Still others are most comfortable with the consistency provided by experienced teams with talented players who are focused on making another run at a championship.

Everyone loves a good story, and the A-Sun is proud to tell these and many more each Friday in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for the next story, the telling of that particular hero’s journey that is sure to keep you coming back for more from the A-Sun.

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