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Pirates' MacRae develops into force

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2002

CRYSTAL RIVER -- Stopping Jennifer MacRae could be a tall order for any team -- literally.

At 6-foot-1, the Crystal River junior is the tallest player in the county. MacRae should be among the best, now that she has become more comfortable in her size-11 shoes.

Trudee Lightbody remembers MacRae's freshmen season: "She was one of those typical too-tall players who don't know how to use their body," the Pirates coach said. "She was skin and bones then and is finally growing into herself."

As a freshman, MacRae was 6-foot and 125 pounds, but she showed enough promise to be moved to varsity during the season.

MacRae was so weak, though, that she couldn't get the ball over the net when she served. Plus, she sprained her right ankle tripping over her feet. MacRae stepped into a starting role as a sophomore, playing in the front row and serving before being substituted for a back-row player. She came into her own toward the end of the season, registering seven blocks in a district win against Williston, and earned All-Citrus/Hernando honorable-mention recognition.

Now the 140-pound MacRae is ready to reach new heights. She said her favorite play is when the opposing team overpasses the ball and she slams it to the floor. With her long arms, MacRae can reach over the net without even leaving her feet.

"I'm trying to do jumping exercises and get above the net and slam it down," said MacRae, whose mother, Marian, is 5-10, and father, Rodney, is 6-1. "Blocking is so much fun, especially when it goes back in their face."

Although good genetics gave her a boost in height, MacRae credits her two years of club volleyball with helping her grow as a player.

Seven Rivers' Danielle Albury, the county's second-tallest player at 5-111/2, played for Nature Coast Volleyball Club, and the two are good friends.

MacRae and Albury were on different squads but have practiced together and helped each other. MacRae said she has learned a lot from watching Albury, who's impressed with MacRae's blocking ability.

"I try my best to block, but I often totally miss the ball, and she can just time exactly when the hitters are going to hit and stuff-block it every time," Albury said. "And if you try to angle on her, she'll still block it. She's coming along in her hitting also."

Such improvement hasn't come without work. MacRae has stayed after practice to put in extra time with Pirates setter Alisa Tisdale on hitting quicker sets called "ones," which are lower and tighter to the net.

Running a faster offense will make it harder for opponents to stop MacRae, especially since she almost always will be hitting against a smaller block.

"It's all about timing -- getting (the ball) to go where you want and knowing your front-row players and what they can do," Tisdale said. "She's gotten better and more aggressive and aware of where the ball's going."

That could be trouble for Crystal River foes. Against Lecanto, MacRae could be facing 5-9 middle Stacy Lowe. Citrus' tallest players are middle blockers Brittany Doyle and Ashley Mangrum, who are about 5-9.

Looking around the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, Central's biggest player is 5-10, and Hernando has two 5-8 members.

Even though she will have the height advantage, MacRae would like to become a more complete player. She has done rolls in practice and would like to go to a passing camp to sharpen her skills in the back row.

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