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A Deeper Look at the Volleyball Coaches Poll

The interesting part about the top four ranked teams

Jordan Opp

The four top ranked teams in the volleyball coaches poll all have something in common; they all plan to start a new setter this season. This is a big deal. Remember, the setter in volleyball is the quarterback, point guard, and on-the-court coach. In short, she runs the offense. This is a story to watch this season.

1. Nebraska
2. Texas
3. Wisconsin
4. Louisville

The setter must be aware of the opponents blockers strengths and weaknesses. She calls a play at the start of the rally and chooses the options inside that rally for which attacker to set. She places the ball in the locations that each hitter likes and needs. One may need the ball fast, while another is better with a floating ball for seeing her hitting options.

The physical mechanics of setting are not the most challenging skill in volleyball, true. As a parallel, you we could agree that passing the basketball is “easier” than hitting a 3-point shot or driving the lane. But, back to volleyball, while blocking, hitting and passing are more difficult to do well, when you couple the setting skill with the strategy, composure and intellect necessary to be good and lead the team’s offense, well, you can see why setting is a special position that not all players can do well. Or, well enough to lead a title contender.

Each coach is measuring the readiness of his or her new starting setter and getting as many reps as possible before the season starts. The reps will help to establish consistency and good timing with every hitter. The hitters expect the ball to be in the same spot at the same speed to produce the best chance of a kill.

The timing is important for the setter because of the speed of college volleyball. The game is fast enough that all hitters are taking their first approach step or in the air when the ball leaves the setters hands. There is little they can do to adjust to a set located in the wrong location once they are in the air. This game speed makes these rookie setters’ situation all the more interesting. How quickly can they adjust to big-time college volleyball?

Setters normally arrive an hour before practices and matches to gain more repetitions for every set. Pre-game warm up is the best because you can watch them set everything! Does it land in the same spot on the net every time no matter where the pass was? No? Keep working.

They are working!

#1 Nebraska’s Kennedi Orr is working on taking over the starting setting position from Nicklin Hames. This is an unusual situation because as we know Hames is still on the team! Lest we forget, she was the starting setter in the National Championship match just a few months ago, but Coach Cook says he plans to start Orr.

Bold strategy, and I think the right one. One of the biggest challenges with this strategy falls on the coaches; it will be hard to stick with the less experienced player through all her ups and downs when there is a veteran ready to go. The coaches will have to weigh the benefits of immediate needs against future improvements every time the idea of starting setters comes up.

Orr is a 6’0’’ Sophomore from Minnesota with oodles of talent and athletic ability. She was the #1 recruit in her class and a member of the U17 and U18 USA National Teams. She is good, now she needs experience at the college level.

#2 Texas saw last season’s setter, Jhenna Gabriel, step away from Texas and volleyball with one year of eligibility remaining. Texas gained 5’10’’ redshirt senior Jenna Ewert in the off season.

Prior to Texas she was a four year starter at University of Colorado and a Pac 12 honorable mention her senior year. She has plenty of experience on the court but now she need to create a connection with each of her new hitters. This will take time and evolve over the course of the season.

#3 Wisconsin was led by Sydney Hilley last season but she was a graduate student then and is playing pro in Turkey now. Coach Sheffield said that Izzy Ashburn and MJ Hammill will be captains as well, and both would work as setters at times. He added he is unsure yet whether the Badgers will run a 5-1 or 6-2 system. During some matches in the spring, UW tinkered with that lineup.

#4 Louisville graduated starting setter and vocal leader Tori Dilfer. Louisville has four setters on the roster; 2 freshmen, 1 sophomore and 1 senior. This is a competition to earn the starting spot. Head Coach Dani Busboom Kelly knows the importance of an established setter and leader on the court, as she played the position.

We expect to see evolution of these new setters on their team through the season. We should see improvement individually but more importantly improvement as a team with better connections and timing. Matches begin August 26th. GBR!