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Uncommon hitting style key to volleyball offense

Chico State volleyball player Kristyn Casalino meets the opposition at the net. Photo credit: John Domogma

Year after year, as players come and go, the Chico State volleyball team’s best offensive set has remained the same. Whenever an easy-to-receive ball floats over the net, it’s a safe bet for opponents to expect the ’Cats go-to attack, the “slide.”

The bang-bang play involves a quick backward set from the setter to a middle hitter jumping off one foot and then gliding diagonally to crush the ball. Through 15 matches, senior middle hitters Lindsay Quigley and Kristyn Casalino are ranked in the California Collegiate Athletic Association’s top 10 for hitting percentage. Quigley is first in the conference in hitting percentage with .456 while Casalino is 14th with .288.

Most of their kills come off a slick set courtesy of sophomore setter Torey Thompson, who was named CCAA Freshman of the Year and garnered American Volleyball Coaches Association Honorable Mention All-America recognition in 2013. After 15 matches so far in 2014, her 11.30 assists per set average leads the CCAA.

“Torey is a good setter,” said Tommy Gott, a sixth-year assistant women’s volleyball coach. “(Her) natural instincts and athletic ability (allows her to) do everything she can to make that ball better. She takes personal pride in wanting to give her hitters a good opportunity.”

Chico State volleyball player Ellie Larronde delivers the ball over the net. Photo credit: John Domogma

Gott said he is an advocate of the slide and firm believer in speed over power when it comes to the play’s execution.

“It’s a set that isn’t run as much nowadays, but for us it’s really effective,” he said. “The slide is our bread and butter. It’s one of those plays where teams can see it on film but it’s so fast that they can’t mimic it in practice. No matter who we play, it causes a lot of problems.”

Gott pointed out that while other teams do have players that hit slides, they are unable to run the play as quickly as the Wildcats. On the topic of how Chico State keeps churning out quality middle hitters, the coach mentioned the program’s recruiting philosophy.

“When we’re recruiting, we seek out athletes,” Gott said. “You can’t hide athleticism.”

Gott said he looks for players who are good at jumping off one foot, and linked the slide’s footwork approach to that of going in for a layup in basketball.

While the slide can be tricky to run correctly, the team is fortunate to have players with experience executing it.

Casalino said she benefited from playing on a team that also ran the slide, and it’s her favorite set to hit.

“At (Santa Rosa Junior College), (the slide) was one of the primary sets we would run,” she said. “I like that it’s fast. Middles are used to faster sets and also I like how it’s off of one foot. It just came more naturally to me.”

There’s no specific training for jumping off one foot, but through practicing the slide so much, her left leg, the leg she jumps off of, is stronger than her right, Casalino said.

Thompson’s sets are better than those she received at Santa Rosa Junior College, she said.

“Torey’s slides are lower and faster compared to the ones that I hit at my JC, which were a little more loopy and high,” Casalino said. “But I think that’s why it’s harder for other teams to get a block.”

Chico State volleyball player Shannon Boling rises up to deliver a kill. Photo credit: John Domogma

Thompson said she also loves setting the unorthodox slide, as it has been a part of her repertoire of sets for years. Despite not looking at where she’s setting the ball, Thompson never doubts herself in her ability to deliver a hittable set to her middle. It just comes naturally to her because she began learning how to set the slide before playing in high school.

“My club team was known for running the slide a ton, so that’s where I got it down,” she said.

When opponents are serving, the Wildcats are in what is referred to as serve receive. Thompson acts as the team’s quarterback by signalling plays to her hitters prior to the ’Cats defensive players passing the ball to her. However, in the midst of a wild rally, the middles are in charge of calling for Thompson to set the slide for them, along with the bevy of more traditional attacks the Wildcats utilize.

“We have a game plan before every match and go through what rotations would be best to run slides,” Thompson said. “I think we get the most kills out of it.”

With a skilled setter in Thompson and solid seniors in Casalino and Quigley, it looks like the slide will remain a staple of the Wildcat offense for years to come.

Nick Reddy can be reached at [email protected] or @NickIsReddy on Twitter.

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