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Digging in

There's little glory in it, but some county players dig playing good defense.

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2002

In volleyball, thunderous kills usually elicit the oohs and aahs.

So while the spikers get applause, the defenders get inferiority complexes.

Crystal River's Lisandra Vazquez and Lecanto's Kacie Henderson are among the top defensive players in the county. The seniors realize how underappreciated back-row play is in the sport.

"I'll have 10 digs in a game and someone will have four spikes and the headline will be that someone else won the game, that so-and-so had this many kills," Vazquez said.

"We don't get much recognition, and neither do the setters," she said.

Henderson knows the feeling.

"It makes me so mad because they're like so and so did this at the net, and I'm like well what about me?" Henderson joked.

That might be because those unfamiliar with volleyball fail to realize that without a good dig, there would be no set and no spike. All are important parts of the games, and solid defensive play often can compensate for a lack of offense.

Those big hits don't look quite so impressive when someone on the opposing team pops them right back in the air.

Citrus coach Pam Woznicki has watched plenty of powerful spikers become frustrated when that happened to them.

"When you get ready to play these teams that have the bigger hitters, if you shake them a little bit, they're not used to it," Woznicki said.

"A scrappy defensive team, I've seen lots of times, can beat a team that's got a stronger offense just through hustle."

While the strongest hitters generally are the tallest players, the best diggers traditionally have been smaller -- such as the 5-foot-5 Vazquez and Citrus' 5-3 Alycia LePage. But unlike in the front row where genetics play such a big role, other factors make a good defender.

"You gotta be able to read the ball, where it's going to go and follow it," LePage said. "You've got to be quick and willing to dive on the ground.

"I just love it -- digging is one of my favorite things," said the senior, whose Hurricanes teammate, Ashley Worrell, also is a good digger.

At Seven Rivers Christian, foot speed helps sophomore Rachel Ebert track down wayward shots.

Coach Scott Lyons said the sophomore defensive specialist/right-side hitter possesses great instincts and ability.

"She's just a great athlete," said Lyons, also the Warriors' track coach. "In track last year, I put her in five events and she qualified in all five from districts to regionals. She ranked No. 10 in the state in the 800 as a freshmen last year."

But all the speed and natural talent won't help if a defensive player is out of position or has bad technique. Both are formed through repetition, Vazquez says.

"I think practice also makes a good digger, and I've been playing club volleyball since eighth grade and volleyball since fourth grade so I've done a lot of it," she said.

"I have to keep myself in check and make sure that I'm not flat-footed, and have to be in the right position on the court," Vazquez said.

Henderson, who patrols the backcourt with teammate Megs Brown, said being a strong defensive player is mental. Equally important is "your attitude, because you have to be dedicated and work hard."

Next time the aforementioned players crash into the bleachers trying to dig a ball, they hope fans will remember: Without defense there would be no offense.

-- Kristen Leigh Porter can be reached at 564-3628 or

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