Thursday, February 29, 2024

Middle blockers contribute for early team success

October 3, 2001
Wisconsin middle blocker Amy Hultgren swats one by MSU middle blocker Jenny Rood. The Spartans lost the match at Wisconsin 1-3 on Sept. 21. —

The job of a middle blocker is simple - don’t stay in one spot for too long and attack from all angles at the net.

Despite that simplicity, their position is the core of a successful attack.

Junior middle blocker Angela Morley and sophomore middle blocker Jenny Rood proved in wins against Minnesota on Friday and Iowa on Saturday just how crucial their play can be.

The two middles hit for a combined 50 percent against their conference foes and opened up the attack for the rest of the team. Rood had 19 kills on the weekend and Morley added 17.

And sophomore setter Nikki Colson said the stat sheet only tells half the story.

“I’d say more importantly than getting kills, the middles can allow our outside hitters to go up against only one blocker,” Colson said. “Carrying the block and faking out the block makes it much easier for me to get the ball to the outsides in a position where they can easily put it away.”

Spartan head coach Chuck Erbe’s offense utilizes the middle blockers’ strengths, such as Morley’s size (she’s 6-foot-4), Rood’s quickness, and Colson’s stellar court savvy to create a balanced approach.

“With Jenny, nobody’s going to out-quick her,” Colson said. “She’s right up there in the Big Ten as far as quickest middles.”

Although Morley may not have Rood’s speed, she does add a physical dimension to the floor, Colson said.

That balanced attack can open up outside hitters for kills.

Erbe uses Rood and Morley in the front row at different times - both force opponents to respect their offensive threat.

“It opens so many more options,” Morley said. “If the other team doesn’t respect the middles, they know the ball is going to the outside and there’ll always be a double block on the outside hitters.”

With a quick and varying middle attack, defenses can’t anticipate the position of the ensuing hit.

“There’s all these extra plays you can incorporate into your offense, and you be creative with it,” Rood said. “If you see the block moving one way, you can run a different system set and beat the block by changing tempo.”

But despite Rood and Morley’s pace-changing upfront, the back row must also be ready to adjust, Colson said.

A pass must reach her quickly at the net for her to set the middles, she said.

Rood converted to middle blocker from outside hitter last spring and said her new role allows her to get creative.

“There are so many things to do as a middle,” she said. “I knew being in the middle position there are added responsibilities and pressure, like you have so many different things you can run, and so many different plays.”

And working with Colson and her high expectations has helped, Rood said.

“She’s very demanding of our back row, and when we’re passing well, she can do whatever she wants to and get us wide open,” Colson said.

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