Volleyball’s passing problem

At 6-foot-1, Kelsey Matti is a disruptive force for the Golden Eagles up front.

At 6-foot-1, Kelsey Mattai is a disruptive force for the Golden Eagles up front.

No matter the sport, coaches always stress fundamentals as the keys to success, a concept that seems to elude many players.

The Marquette women’s volleyball team learned the value of fundamentals the hard way this weekend when it experienced firsthand how bare essentials can make or break a match.

The Golden Eagles’ passing, especially off serves, was inconsistent against Notre Dame and then phenomenal against DePaul. Accordingly, Marquette lost to the Fighting Irish and dominated the Blue Demons.

Passing is a critical element in the Marquette attack because it determines who the setter will be able to set.

“Passing the ball to your setter allows you to set your middles,” coach Bond Shymansky said after the Notre Dame match. “And we didn’t do it enough.”

When the team was able to pass the ball well, it allowed setter Nikki Klingsporn to utilize her tall middle hitters —  Rabbecka Gonyo at 6-foot-4 and Kelsey Mattai at 6-foot-1 — with quick sets either to the middle or behind Klingsporn on a back slide.

These quick sets are often more effective than regular sets because they catch the defense off-guard and don’t give it time to set up a proper block. When the timing between setter and hitter is correct, it is very difficult to stop.

“(The key) was getting up quick, having a high elbow, and coming through with my arm,” Mattai said. “I was just up and ready for the ball.”

The results of the quick sets were evident in both matches as Gonyo tallied 21 kills and Mattai added 13 for a combined 34 kills over two matches.

Against DePaul, even reserve middle hitter Carol Henney joined in on the action tallying four kills in only 15 points played.

“We felt like we had a little bit of a size mismatch with them and so we really went after that,” Shymansky said. “The only way that becomes possible is if your passers are passing.”

This was also the case early on against Notre Dame, and not only did it allow the middle hitters to take control, it opened up the right and outside hitters to the point that they were facing single blockers on occasions.

However, once the passes became more errant, the Irish were able to key-in on individual hitters and became dominant with their blocks. They totaled eight blocks in the second set alone.

Hitting errors also proved a common theme against Notre Dame as the Golden Eagles tallied 31.

“They just do a very good job of taking care of the ball,” Shymansky said. “They are a very low error team, and we were very high error, and you can’t make errors in a game and expect to win.”

Marquette will work on putting its passes on-target this week as well as limiting its hitting errors as it prepares for its last Big East regular season match against Villanova.

“Next week we really have to focus on having a really good week of practice, because everyone knows you play, how you practice,” Henney said. “So we just have to go out and have an intense, strong practice every day next week, and I’m sure we’ll be fine.”