Among the topics that Christy Johnson-Lynch talked about in her Volleyball Media Day press conference was the importance of passing.
“We have to be able to pass and handle the ball to get our great athletes the ball,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We need another passer or two to emerge in the coming months.”
A lot of the talk in the build-up to the 2013 season has been about who will take over for two-time All-American setter Alison Landwehr. It makes sense. The setter is, in a way, the quarterback of a volleyball team, in that she touches the ball on virtually every play, thus making the majority of the decisions when it comes to the attack.
As a former setter, earning All-America honors and a national title at Nebraska, Johnson-Lynch understands that the job of setting is more complicated than getting the ball to a hitter for a kill. The ball has to get to the setter accurately and this is where the job gets much more difficult.
This is where passers come in. The passer is the player who ends up digging the ball, an unknown role until the pass actually happens. There are always the ideal scenarios of who should be the passer or who the coaches want to be the passer, but in the end it is a defense’s job to make sure that the opposing team does not score on its attack. However, if it is possible (sometimes players just have to make a great dig and rely on their teammates to clean up) they also have to consider the next shot, which is getting the ball to the setter in the best position they can.
The setter is prepared to be mobile and get a pass that is low or high, going at a high-rate of speed or just floating lightly in the air or to a pass right at the net or near the service line. During that process of determining where the pass is going, she is trying to figure out which of her attackers are in position and where they would want the ball.
You have to be pretty smart to be a volleyball player, and it should be no coincidence that the success Iowa State has had in the past has been with some smart teams.
Back to the 2013 Cyclones. Johnson-Lynch mentioned multiple times how much Rachel Hockaday will be missed. The knee injury that ended Hockaday’s 2010 season was a chance for her to focus more on her passing as she only played in the back row in 2011 when she returned. That allowed Hockaday, who was already a good passer, to establish a rapport with new libero Kristen Hahn on the defensive side of the ball that benefited the Cyclones in 2011 and when Hockaday went back to playing all six positions in 2012.
“The biggest challenge Kristen is going to have is adjusting to the ballhandlers around her,” Johnson-Lynch stated. “Rachel Hockaday was one of the best passers we have ever had in the program. To have someone next to you that you can rely on makes you feel more comfortable. The question is how much responsibility we can give Kristen.”
Iowa State does not go into the situation empty handed, as there is already some talent onboard. One Cyclone definitely joining Hahn as a passer is Caitlin Nolan. The sophomore showed her defensive prowess as a freshman by playing in all 30 matches and ranking third on Iowa State in digs. She competed as part of the USA Junior National Team at the U20 World Championships in the Czech Republic over the summer as the team’s libero, and has shown great ability to control the ball as much as possible to make for an easier set.
With Jenelle Hudson being named the starter at setter, a piece of the puzzle is in place, but another challenge emerges. Hudson had a major role in passing last season, recording 2.03 digs per set in 20 matches, but her role as setter means she becomes a less viable option.
The other setting candidate was Taylor Goetz. A junior from Ankeny, she actually quit the team for a short time in Spring 2013 before having a change of heart and returning to the team. Johnson-Lynch has been impressed with her efforts so far in practice. She was strong in the Cardinal and Gold Scrimmage Saturday, recording 11 digs.
Another option is Bria Rasmussen. The sophomore from Nebraska earned limited playing time last season, but has also been impressive in pre-season practices.
Another possibility is the development of an all-around option. Some players come to Iowa State ready to play at all positions on the court. Hockaday had “Double 300” seasons of kills and digs as both a freshman and sophomore. Others take time. The pieces came together for Victoria Henson as her junior season went along in 2009 that allowed her the opportunity to play more. Others had to wait for their opportunity. Carly Jenson only played in 27 matches her first two years as a Cyclone. Hockaday’s injury opened the door for Jenson, who went on to produce two big seasons for the Cyclones in route to earning All-America honors in 2011.
Johnson-Lynch and the coaching staff are focusing in Mackenzie Bigbee as an all-around option. The 2012 Big 12 Freshman of the Year, Bigbee was an offensive juggernaut in her debut season, but had one of the lowest dig totals among the squad’s regular players. A summer that included a stint in the USA Volleyball A2 Program has seen her improve on defense.
Producing an all-around player would allow the Cyclones more flexibility within its rotation. With 15 substitutions allowed per set, there is room for not having all-around players. However, in a tight match when two-point runs are a luxury, the substitutions dry up quickly.