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It's in their hands

The setter and quarterback play a similar role, with their passes often controlling outcome.

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 29, 2002

They are among the most beautiful scenes in all of sport.

The quarterback releases a perfect spiral that seamlessly moves through the air until the football reaches its destination, the outstretched arms of a receiver.

In volleyball, the ball rests momentarily on the setter's fingertips before completing its trajectory to a leaping hitter's line of attack.

During the fall, both scenes are played out time and again. To make them happen requires skill and intelligence, traits embodied by the setter and quarterback.

Crystal River volleyball coach Trudee Lightbody said whether after a snap or dig, both dictate the offense.

"Your setter -- just like a quarterback -- is involved in every play, whereas other players aren't," Lightbody said. "The fact is that they're going to hopefully touch the ball one time every time it comes over the net. They're your leader. Everybody follows what they're doing."

It is the golden arm of a quarterback or the soft hands of a setter that can dictate the outcome of games. Lecanto setter Lisa Carter sees the similarities in the positions.

"(Quarterbacks) have to get the ball to the people so they can carry out the job, just like we have to set the ball for the hitters to get it down," said Carter, who has 72 assists. "So you have to know where that person's going to be and have to know where they want their sets, just like if you pass the ball to them."

Distributing the ball

Several offensive systems are involved in both sports.

A 5-1 attack in volleyball has one setter whose role is similar to the pocket passer, a more traditional quarterback who rarely does more than throw the ball.

Citrus coach Pam Woznicki said her team has run a 5-1 the past few years. Sam Hodson, at setter this season, and has taken charge, Woznicki said.

"The setter is the quarterback of the team," Woznicki said."And if people aren't passing the ball well or are not in the right spot, I see her communicating with them that we need better passes. She's really hustling, going after quite a few balls, and her hands are looking good."

Crystal River ran a 5-1 offense in past years but switched to a 6-2 with senior Alisa Tisdale (58 assists) and junior Shana Lockley (24 assists) alternating the setting duties. Lightbody said her attack depends on the personnel.

Like a West Coast offense is best with a quarterback who can run and pass, a 6-2 scheme takes advantage of multi-talented setters. It features two, opposite each other on the court, who set in the back row and hit when they rotate into the front row.

Seven Rivers Christian uses the 6-2 because its two best hitters happen to be the best setters, coach Scott Lyons said. Senior Danielle Albury (153 kills, 97 assists) and sophomore Alice Zeiss (71 kills, 146 assists) share the position.

"They're just absolutely outstanding athletes," Lyons said. "There's younger, better setters coming up in our program, but for right now for what we've got, they are the best on the team.

"You just don't want what I have," he said. "You don't want to have your best setters be your best hitters. I have to use one of them to set to the other one." At Lecanto, Karen Dickson runs a 6-2 to give the opposite setter a chance to hit in the front line. With Carter, the coach thought about playing a 5-1 but uses Nicole Maltese (23 assists) or MaryAnn Emberley (23 assists).

"We run a 6-2 to give more kids the chance to improve, but the top teams will go 5-1 most of the time," Dickson said.

An option quarterback often will keep the ball, but Dickson doesn't like a "selfish" setter who will send the ball back over the net or try and spike it herself.

The main character

The setter, like a quarterback, can't do the job without a strong supporting cast. And once the play starts, they're in charge.

A quarterback looks for an open receiver, and the setter has to react when a hitter is being double- or triple-blocked.

"I just have to remember where my people are, who's in the front line and just think who's hitting well tonight and if I can't give it to them, who can I give it to," Tisdale said. "It's nice when you get a good pass because you can give it to whoever you want to, but a lot of times with a pass you only have one or two options."

According to Dickson, the perfect setter is one who can see where the blockers and holes are and is able to communicate that to the spikers. But at the same time, the setter must hide her intentions from the opposition.

Coaching philosophies differ on who gets the ball set to them. The process includes communication between setter and coach, as well as setter and hitter. One constant in football and volleyball is to go with the hot hand.

Lyons expects his setters to run the show and go to whoever is on. If the opposition cannot stop Albury, she will keep being set or, on an off-night, she will be used as a decoy, Zeiss said.

"When I set, even if it's a bad set, Danielle gets to it and makes it look awesome," Zeiss said. "She knows where the blocks are because they'll block it back in her face if they're there."

Although Albury enjoys hitting rather than setting, she said the position allows her to contribute to the offense when she's in the back row.

"I definitely see how it compares to a quarterback," Albury said. "Most of the time I'll go to Alice, but some days it's not her day and you have to go somewhere else."

Cool under pressure

Most of all, setters and quarterbacks have to be leaders with the ability to shake things off and concentrate on the competition.

Lightbody said she expects her setters to keep team spirits high. If they see somebody get down after a mistake, it's the setters' jobs to correct the situation.

"When the setter starts getting down and making bad sets, it affects everyone on the team," Lightbody said.

Lecanto's Maltese said a setter has to have her head in the game more than anyone else and understand the team.

Because of the importance of the position, quarterbacks and setters must be emotionally steady individuals. Handling the snap decisions and taking responsibility for the squad's performance is not easy. That is what most setters enjoy about the position.

"They need to want to be in charge and have control of the game and take the responsibility because it is a lot of responsibility," Tisdale said. "And I like being in charge of the game."

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

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