Season Preview: Setters
Aug. 20, 2012
SEATTLE - Class is not yet in session, but a case study of last season provides an excellent example of the effects of the setter position, and the importance of rhythm between a setter and the arms of her hitters.
Heading into the 2011 season, Head Coach Jim McLaughlin had a competition on his hands with senior Evan Sanders and sophomore Jenni Nogueras vying for the starting job. Early on, Sanders took control, and the Huskies were piling up the wins.
But still something wasn't quite adding up. McLaughlin saw the typically-dominant Bianca Rowland struggling to terminate in the middle, and knew that would need to be fixed as the season progressed. So he made took a gamble and switched to a 6-2 offense that used Sanders and Nogueras in rotation.
Nogueras came in with Rowland and the two quickly clicked. Sanders still played a big role through UW's NCAA tourney run, but the connection with Nogueras helped Rowland hit a blistering .449 over the final 12 matches of the year, pushing her to All-Pac-12 and All-America Second Team honors.
Now as a junior but in her fourth year with the program, Nogueras is looking to have the same effect on all the Husky hitters.
"Jen has all the physical ability in the world and I think if she is able to tap in and stay focused for longer periods, she's going to turn that ability into what she wants her body to do," says McLaughlin.
A certain abandon is evident in the best setters, but it's anything but reckless.
"Right now she's not afraid to make some errors, which is a good thing," McLaughlin says of the Puerto Rico native. "There's not a lot of apprehension, and she's not afraid to learn from mistakes."
While McLaughlin, who just watched former pupil Courtney Thompson win an Olympic silver medal in London, asks a lot of his setters, he also keeps the fundamentals in view. "It comes down to the simple fact of locating the ball and can she get it to go where she wants it to go, and can she make good decisions based on the situation? Jenni's making progress there."
Once again there is a talented newcomer expected to push Nogueras, but this time it is a freshman brand new to college life, rather than a senior transfer with NCAA tourney experience.
Katy Beals comes to UW from Austin, Texas, competing for the same club team as former All-American Becky Perry. All Beals did during her senior season was lead her Lake Travis high school team to a 50-0 record, earning a second straight Texas state title, and a No. 1 national ranking by PrepVolleyball.com. A consensus First Team All-American, Beals was the third overall setter recruit according to PrepVolleyball, and has impressed her coaches and teammates thus far.
"Katy is extremely steady," says McLaughlin. "Athletically she's gifted; her body moves well and she's a physical kid who can locate the ball. When she learns the offense and learns to make choices she'll be even better."
As with her fellow freshmen, Beals has been soaking up the info like a sponge since the start of fall camp. For someone who did nothing but win, suddenly needing to make changes might seem a bit jarring, but McLaughlin has found a willing student of the game.
"As she learns how we really want her to move mechanically, with her hands and her footwork, she'll be more efficient with the ball," says McLaughlin. "But I'm very impressed with her ability to make changes in her game thus far."
Katy is a very humble kid and so it's a sacrifice for her to be more outgoing and to be more assertive and demanding. But she's got to learn those things and do it in the right way. The team has a tremendous amount of respect for her.