High School Sports

Often overlooked setters can be backbone of volleyball success

Edwardsville setter Rachel Verdun is a big reason behind the Tigers’ volleyball success this season
Edwardsville setter Rachel Verdun is a big reason behind the Tigers’ volleyball success this season

A high school volleyball team can have all-state caliber outside hitters with thunderous laser kills, but without a talented setter to get them the ball those hitters will likely struggle.

Just like a quarterback in football or point guard in basketball, volleyball setters direct the action that will follow on nearly every play.

“Every offensive play on the floor is dictated by this position,” said Edwardsville coach Jami Parker, whose 12-3 squad is No. 1 in the BND Large-School Volleyball Rankings. “It is her job to read defenses and blockers, understand defensive or blocking schemes in order to create opportunities for her hitters to score - and know when to attack herself.”

It’s not easy.

Split-second decisions and reads must be made all while trying to put the ball in a perfect position for a teammate to succeed.

A quick check through some of the top teams in the metro-east will find a good setter helping them get those gaudy records.

Edwardsville junior Rachel Verdun averages nine assists per game to rank ninth in the St. Louis area. Mascoutah senior Kamrynn Voypick ranks third in the St. Louis area at 9.71 assists per game and the Indians are 13-3.

Every offensive play on the floor is dictated by this position. It is her job to read defenses and blockers, understand defensive or blocking schemes in order to create opportunities for her hitters to score - and know when to attack herself.

Edwarsdville coach Jami Parker on the importance of good setters

Columbia (16-0) has senior setter Elizabeth Fleming (8.7 assists per game), Freeburg (13-4) has Abby Quirin (9 assists per game) and O’Fallon (14-3) has Alison Fournie (8.7 assists per game). Althoff, the top-ranked small-school in the BND rankings, is led by junior Louise Comerford, a potential Division I recruit, while the Belleville West offense runs through setter Katherine Koch.

“A setter has to know where there are favorable matchups for their hitters versus smaller or weaker blockers,” Parker explained, “where they can deliver a ball to create seams in the blocks or one-on-one hitter vs. blocker matchups in order to allow their hitters to score more easily. They also need to know which hitters are hot to put the ball in their hands, and where to do it.”

One good example in the area is Verdun’s work with junior Rachel Pranger, a kills machine at outside hitter whose 5.06 kills per game rank fourth in the St. Louis region, as well as junior Kate Martin (96 kills).

The trio seem to be on the same wavelength, but that takes hours of practice and work and knowledge of each other’s movements. They have been high school teammates for three years,

“Rachel (Verdun) is a great setter because she is athletic, quick and intelligent,” Parker said. “She delivers a beautiful ball for the attackers to hit, but most importantly she has a strong feel for the court and the flow of a game. She makes good choices as to when she should attack vs. set.

“She works well with the coaching staff and her hitters to create ‘seams’ (one-on-one blocking matchups or splits in the block) for them to attack in.”

While talent and athleticism are important, don’t overlook the chemistry component.

“First and foremost, this is a close-knit team,” Parker said. “The girls all get along well. They want to win and they understand that to do so, everyone has a role. There is a natural friendship between Rachel and her hitters along with a lot of respect that works both ways.

“They trust her to call the offense and make choices to allow them to score and she trusts them to get the ball put away.”

Highland one of two unbeaten teams

Highland and Columbia are the last unbeaten teams in the area, with both Class 3A teams both riding 16-0 records.

Highland’s early success can be attributed to seven seniors and a balanced attack, according to coach Tina Beyer.

“I think we’re very focused,” said Beyer, whose team has been pushed to three sets only once all season, by Mississippi Valley Conference rival Waterloo. “We’ve got a really well-balanced team, we don’t rely on one (player) more than another. Everybody is pulling their weight and I think that’s made a huge difference.”

One of the team’s top players is senior Alex LaPorta, whose older sister Olivia LaPorta is a sophomore middle hitter at Fordham University.

Alex LaPorta’s 98 kills, 29 blocks and 185 digs lead Highland and her 24 services aces are tied for first with Sarah Beth Wiegman. The Bulldogs also get additional firepower from Wiegman (72 kills, 136 digs), Claire Diercks (70 kills, 18 blocks) and Madison Wellen (59 kills ,163 digs).

We’ve got a really well-balanced team, we don’t rely on one (player) more than another. Everybody is pulling their weight and I think that’s made a huge difference.

Highland coach Tina Beyer on her team’s 16-0 start

“Alex is definitely a standout and having a great season,” Beyer said of LaPorta, considered a strong basketball recruit who helped lead the Bulldogs to the Class 3A state basketball tournament last season. “We’re getting contributions from all over the court. We’re hopefully making it tough for our opponents to know who to focus on because we have good solid hitters all around.”

Setters Megan Frey and Sarah Frank help run the offense.

“We’re not blowing teams out, I don’t think we are that team,” said Beyer, who admitted much tougher competition lies ahead. “We are balanced and doing a good job, but we’re going to have to work to earn it and the girls are fine with that.”

One area the Highland girls aren’t fine with is playoff success. The Bulldogs last regional title was in 2011 and they have won only two regional crowns since 1999.

“We want to do more in the postseason,” Beyer said. “We cut back our offseason work this summer, did about half as much, and I hope we’re a little fresher and a little more focused and that translates into postseason success.”

Highland plays host to Waterloo in am MVC match on Thursday.

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders

  Comments