Tossed into defensive end, players find spot to dive in

Defensive specialists: Shorter performers take to the rear to make their splash, hitting the floor to keep their teams from smacking their face on it.

September 03, 2002|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

Amanda Ingle began her freshman season on the Severna Park JV volleyball team as an outsider hitter.

She wasn't there long.

"They put me in the back row because I was not tall enough to hit and block," said the 5-foot-4 senior.

So Ingle became a defensive specialist, and her stature and value to the team began to grow. That's about the size of it for many players.

"It didn't take long for me to realize that being lower to the ground gave me an advantage getting to balls," Ingle said. "I became more determined and have had a lot of fun since."

Defensive specialists handle serve/receive and play unwavering defense. They dive, they dig, they do anything to keep the ball in play.

"I love the position," said Towson's Stephanie Heard, a 5-4 senior. "Diving for balls and getting them back up is my favorite part of playing volleyball."

Added Ingle: "Being short we get better angles on the balls. People cheer for us and ask how did you do that. There is no greater thrill than a hit coming over with the game on the line and you get it back up to give your team a chance."

Mike Bossom, who has coached Centennial to six of its Maryland-record 10 state titles, said the defensive specialist has to "come with the [right] attitude," something that can't be taught.

"You look for the girls who go after every ball and don't wait for others to do it," Bossom said.

"They are willing to sacrifice their bodies, are quick, not scared to move and have good foot speed and balance. You give them the skills to use that attitude and competitiveness."

"Our girls like to say, it's the giants vs. the midgets, and if our midgets beat their midgets, we win," said Arundel coach Greg Legrand. "They get balls most people can't get by diving or sliding into gaps ... even if it means taking it in the face."

Their position is a labor of love because to be the best they can be means getting banged up not only in games but practice as well.

"We work on defense every day," said Severna Park's Julie Allen, who last year guided Severna Park to the 3A state final and The Sun's No. 1 ranking in her rookie season as coach. "We drill them hard by hitting at them again and again. That's how they get better. Our focus is on defensive passing. The game starts with passing, and your DS has to be good passer."

The ability to get off crisp passes is what got 5-6 junior Kelly Hollrah of Glenelg into playing the position.

"I didn't start playing volleyball until high school, and I was an outside hitter," Hollrah said. "I found out soon enough that I was a better passer than hitter and realized I could contribute more by passing from the back row."

Glenelg coach Jennifer Beall emphasizes passing. "If you can't pass as a team, you will not do well," Beall said. "Kelly is so technically sound with her passing and anticipation. Anticipation is vital."

Vision and the ability to read situations is imperative to be a successful defensive specialist.

"There is little time to adjust," Legrand said. "Positioning is important to get to as many balls as possible, kind of like Cal Ripken did playing shortstop. It gives you an edge to get the ball to the setter."

Ingle said she stays low, reads the shoulders of the hitters on whether they turn or go straight down the line. Hollrah reads how the hitter's hands turn.

Heard said defensive specialists have to practically have eyes in the back of their heads.

"You have to keep your eyes focused on the hitters and the setters, not just the ball," Heard said.

Said Ingle: "You only need to try it to realize how tough the DS is. When our hitters play defense in practice, they realize how hard it is in the back row."

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