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-   -   Volleyball Flyby: The Hits Just Keep On Coming (http://www.udpride.com/forums/showthread.php?t=37007)

BeckysTXA 11-04-2023 09:49 AM

Volleyball Flyby: The Hits Just Keep On Coming
Anyone who has seen even just part of a Flyer Volleyball match this season knows that we have a team-full of really good hitters. And if you’ve seen a couple full matches, you’ve seen every one of the five starting rotation hitters absolutely crush the ball. When Lexie Almodovar arrived on campus three seasons ago we were all “wowed” with her arm speed and the velocity she could generate when attacking. It really stood out because we had no one who could crush the ball like she can. That is no longer the case. This year’s team is overflowing with hitters that swing hard and fast and terminate with supreme velocity.

How deep are we? Well last week our backup Middle Blocker, Lindsey Winner was called on to play six sets over three matches. She goes off for 10 kills, 13 blocks, 16.5 points and hit .333 on her way to being named the A10 Defensive Player of the Week. Our backup Middle Blocker won a weekly A10 award. That says a lot about our depth and talent.

“Winner might be one of the most improved middles we've had in a long time,” said Head Coach Tim Horsmon. “She has always been a hard worker that did the right things. This spring and summer she put in the work and is playing harder and higher.”

Over the years, Horsmon has said many times he likes to recruit tall and athletic players and he has landed many over the years. He has parlayed that into having hitters that can play at a high level and just hit over the defense at the net. Earlier in the season at the UNI Tournament, he said they figured out that they needed to set MB Alayna Yates at a higher contact point and it’s made a big difference. Yates is having her best year and her connection with our setter has also improved her swing.

“Alayna's efficiency and offensive production overall is as high as it's been in the last three years,” explained Assistant Coach Tim Balice, who coaches the setters. “Her connection with (setter) Alyssa Miller has also improved significantly. This past spring we switched to a different tempo for her that she has responded well to.”

The other starting MB is Amelia Moore who is the second player in program history to have six years on the team. During her career, she was the A10 Rookie of the Year, an A10 Second team honoree, a two-time First Team honoree and an AVCA Honorable Mention Regional award winner. She too is having her best season ever. In Conference Stats, she leads the A10 in Hitting % at .451 and in Blocks per set at 1.46. I’m not sure there has been a player who has led the Conference Stats in those two categories ever. She also has very good stats for an MB with .22 Aces per set and .43 Digs per set. She is contributing more on the court than ever before but it’s her leadership skills that have been on full display this season.

“Amelia has been in a leadership role for the past few seasons but has taken on a much larger role this season,” Horsmon stated. “Starting in the spring, after losing in the A10 finals, Amelia took it upon herself to right the ship and make sure everyone in our locker room was pulling in the same direction. She has also done a great job of mentoring our younger players.”

One of those younger players is Sophomore Liana Sarkissian. Liana was a Middle Blocker in high school and might well return to that position next year to replace Moore. But this year she took on the challenge to learn and play right side Outside Hitter and she is having an outstanding year even against high-level teams.

“Liana is much improved and has only scratched the surface of her talents,” said Balice. “She has improved in her ability to play her highest, consistently, around 10'4" or 10'5". Her coming out match was our five set thriller against Louisville where she hit .333 with 7 kills.”

As a point of reference, the volleyball net for women is set at 7’4” and a metric for players is to tough 10’. Liana is playing her best at four to five inches above that and Louisville is currently ranked #3.

Another young player is redshirt freshman Kaitlyn McNeel. She arrived as a left side OH but she too has been asked to learn the right side and has seen backup action on both pins this season,

“Like Liana, Kaitlyn has only scratched the surface of her ability as an attacker,” Balice added. “She is a very powerful attacker that can play very high when she gets her feet to the ball. Kaitlyn has broadened her skills as a left side and a right side.”

There is also a hitter who has been rehabbing an injury. Redshirt Junior Brooke Smith under went shoulder surgery and is working her way back. The coaches added that Brooke has battled a lingering shoulder injury that she has tirelessly rehabbed. She has gained strength and stamina in her shoulder after surgery and she is battling to contribute on the court.

Last year, half way through the season, left OH Taylor Russell had a medical procedure on her knee and had to sit out for several matches after being in the starting rotation early in the season. In recent weeks, she has worn a long black wrap on one leg, but it hasn’t slowed her down like last year. She is having an all-conference season.

“Taylor’s hard work this past spring and summer in the weight room has paid dividends for her ability to consistently play high, hit hard, and hit with range” explained Horsmon. “She is easily attacking over some very formidable blocks this year. She has come a long way but still has some areas of improvement in regards to decision making using the block, and getting her feet to the ball consistently.”

And then he added something that is music to my ears.

“Taylor's back row attack is very tough to defend. But, she isn't playing six rotations right now so we haven't used it much. That is something that I think we will be able to develop and lean on in years to come.”

Taylor leads the A10 in Aces per set (0.65), and is second in Kills per set (3.60) and Points per set (4.44). She is the next A10 POY-in-waiting. That’s because we also have the leading candidate for POY in Lexie Almodovar.

After arriving during the shortened spring COVID year, Lexie has been crushing balls for the last three seasons and this year she has taken her game to new levels. She leads the A10 in Kills per set (4.48) and in the most important stat, Points per set (5.10). Nationally she is ranked in the Top 25 in several stats including 16th in Points per set.

Her hitting percentage has risen each full season she has played from .202 to .231 last year and this season she sits at an eye-popping .278. She hits from the left pin and from the back row as she goes all six rotations. She has the ability to take over sets when we need someone to terminate balls at critical times. Almost every match she has a kill that causes every fan in the gym to exhale in disbelief. The broadcast announcers have commented on this multiple times. She defies the laws of nature as she stands only 5’8” and beats blockers much taller. She will be a National All-American this season. But her coaches say she can be even better.

“Lexie, for the most part, does a good job of making good decisions with the ball.” But they added, “There have been some stretches this season where she reverted to some poor habits she had last year but all in all has done a great job of being aggressive when it is called for. Her range as an attacker and her ‘toolbox’ has grown considerably.

Horsmon added, "Truth be told, Lexie probably has another level in there when it comes to attacking that she is slowly but surely getting to. Specifically, her ability to use the block to score points could be one of the best in the country.”

The team is currently hitting .285 as a team and that ranks 13th in the nation. This group of hitters will go down as one of the best groups in Flyer history.

“There have been some really talented attackers in a Flyer jersey over the years. This group has to be in the conversation when talking about the best,” Horsmon concluded.

So the hits...and wins...just keep on coming and when you add up all the hitters above who the coaches believe can take their talents to an even higher level, we haven’t reached our peak as a team. Add in Amelia’s leadership and 6 years of experience to guide and keep everyone working hard and on the same page, and the upcoming tournament season could get real interesting real fast. Is this the year Dayton can crush it and make the Sweet 16?...just like an attack from Lexie and now all the rest of our hitters.

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