Friday, November 22, 2013

Lipscomb's "More Aggressive" Nature is Becoming for the Lady Bisons

Lipscomb volleyball has made quite a run in the in the last decade, as the Lady Bisons are participating in their ninth straight A-Sun Championship with tournament titles in 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011. It helped that Rosenthal’s teams have been blessed with talent such as A-Sun Players of the Year and Tournament MVP selections such as Katie Rose, Stefine “Jake” Pease and two-time winner Alex Kelly.

Now the Lady Bisons move into the A-Sun Championship final for the fourth time in six years, finding that the third time was the charm against defending tournament champion ETSU. Lipscomb now has its sights set on becoming the only team in A-Sun history other than UCF to win at least five Championship titles.

Yet even with the tremendous success that included two seasons of posting undefeated records in A-Sun play (20-0 in 2009-10, 10-0 in 2010-11), a look at this year’s numbers indicates that this Lady Bison team, on paper, is the best that Lipscomb has fielded under Rosenthal.

Lipscomb has a hitting percentage of .276, averages 14.22 assists per set and 15.30 kills per set, which incidentally, leads the nation. All of these numbers are better than those from any of the four championship teams, so it is an interesting prospect as the Lady Bisons prepare to battle Jacksonville for their fifth tournament title.

“I am not a numbers guy, but with the season that we have had and the success that we have had not only in the A-Sun but nationally, it made me go back and look into it a bit myself,” says Rosenthal. “It is neat to see what we have been able to accomplish on a national scale while playing most of the season without a key player or two.”

What Lipscomb has been able to accomplish is impressive. The Lady Bisons have led the nation in kills per set (15.30) every week but one of the 2013 season, and has just fallen to third in assists per set (14.22) after leading in that category for a good portion of the season as well. They are also 15th in hitting percentage (.276) and three Lady Bisons are ranked among the top 50 players individually, led by Caitlin Dotson, who is tops in the country in assists per set (12.74).

Jewell Dobson, who was a member of the last Lipscomb tournament champion in 2011, is seventh nationally in points per set (5.32), eighth in kills per set (4.66) and 34th in hitting percentage (.386). Molly Spitznagle, who missed some action due to injury, is back in the swing of things ranked 33rd in hitting percentage (.387).

So is this team one of the best teams that Lipscomb has fielded?

“When I look at this team, I think we are just starting to find out who they are,” says Rosenthal. “We have been without Molly Spitznagle and Stephanie Rex a good bit due to injuries, and we haven’t played with a full complement of players until just recently.”

“Throughout the year we really have made a huge step this year following the end of last season, and it has put us up there again to achieve one of our goals which is to win a conference championship.”

The step to which Rosenthal refers is a decision from the coaching staff and the players to be more aggressive in their play. The numbers bear out the commitment to this more aggressive style, and he says it is large part to an increased level of confidence from key players such as A-Sun Player of the Year Jewell Dobson, Lauren Ford, Molly Spitznagle and Brittnay Estes.

“This is not something that we just stumbled upon, but something that we have worked toward,” he says. “It takes time to change, but we have been able to accomplish it and move forward because of the amazing chemistry that this team possesses. This is one of the tightest teams that we have had here. I have always thought that chemistry is such a key part of success in this sport, and it is something that you can’t manufacture.

Rosenthal points to Dobson and Dotson, particularly, as two examples of how this style of play has transformed their game and that of the team. Dobson, who Rosenthal calls one of the meekest players on the team, has blossomed into a national leader. Dotson has also followed suit as she currently leads the nation in assists, and is a player whom Rosenthal credits as a catalyst for the team’s amazing cohesiveness.

“Offensively we knew that we had something special, and just look at the remarkable year that Dobson and Dotson have enjoyed,” he says. “Then you have Lauren Ford, who is quietly putting together one of her best seasons as well.

“Defensively we do a good job, and we transition so well. We typically don’t have long rallies and we dig to target, and then this year we are very efficient offensively in finishing. One area that we have worked on in the last year is our blocking, which is one of the tougher things to improve. It just takes a while.”

Along with the more aggressive style of play, Rosenthal also has a pair of new coaches in Billy Ebel and Ann Armes. Ebel has ties to some of the former and current Lipscomb volleyball athletes such as Jake Pease, Alex Kelly, Abby Fay and Meghan Hinemeyer, because they all grew up in the same area, He has also coached Lauren Ford and they both are from the same hometown of Lenexa, Kan.

Armes played outside hitter, right side and middle blocker for the University of Kentucky from 2007 until 2011, spending her freshman year as a redshirt. She served as a team captain in 2010 and 2011. During her time as a player Kentucky made five trips to the NCAA Tournament and was a key part of the all-time winning class in school history.

“Sometimes a little change goes a long way, and in the cases of both our style of play and the new coaches and the experience and different approaches that they have brought, change seems to have been a good thing,” says Rosenthal.

While there have been many things to like from this team, Rosenthal says what has impressed him the most is the team’s ability to play with consistency.

“I don’t know that we have had a team that played as well as this one has every time they are on the court,” says Rosenthal. “When you look at the schedule it is fun to look at, because there are no bad losses. We are 2-5 against teams in the top 100 of the RPI ratings, but there was no bad loss in any of those.

“Now the teams that we are beating and competing with are teams that years ago we just dreamed of taking points from,” he continues. “It takes a lot of time to change that culture, especially when you are like this team that is not overrun with personalities.

Rosenthal says that he sees that type of culture changes going on with many of the A-Sun teams and is excited to see the increased success that is occurring in the A-Sun.

“As a whole the A-Sun is undeniably on the move,” he says. “ETSU is into the mix with consistent success, and what JU has done this year is great for all of us in the conference. Then you have the Stetsons making their move and as this continues then you become very conscious of the RPI and moving the needle into the top 50.

“Tonight was a win for everyone because of the impact on RPI and soon we will begin to make someone make a very difficult decision when considering whether to invite more than one team from the A-Sun into the NCAA Tournament.”

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations! You are awesome. We hope you guys go all the way in the NCAA tournament. Good luck from the Creamers/Stetson Volleyball.


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