Written by Mark Griffin
Friday, 26 September 2008 08:51
It’s all about the serve for the Cardinal Stritch volleyball team.
Sixth-year coach Tracy Donnelly said the Cardinals want to serve at 85 percent or higher every match.
“We try to serve tough, so sometimes we make more mistakes than we’d like to,” Donnelly said. “We call it the risk/reward system. You have to take the risk to get the reward, even if it doesn't always work out for you.”
Stritch’s top servers are junior left side hitter Alex Blazevich and junior setter Kristen Filzer.
“Those two will score a lot of points for us,” Donnelly said. “Against Northwood, Kristen was our first server and you looked up at the scoreboard and it was 8-0. Just because of Kristen’s serving, it put Northwood behind the 8-ball.”
Last Thursday, the Cardinals toppled Toledo Area Athletic Conference rival Northwood 25-8, 25-9, 25-16. On Monday, Stritch raised its record to 11-3 and 6-0 in the TAAC with a 25-8, 25-20, 25-10 win over visiting Emmanuel Christian.
The 20 points Emmanuel Christian scored in the Game 2 loss was the most the Cardinals have allowed against a TAAC foe all season.
“We’re playing very well and working really well together,” Donnelly said. “I was talking with the Emmanuel Christian coach and she said that even though we beat them, their team is still playing well. She said the first time we played them it was almost like they were scared of us.”
TAAC teams haven’t had much success against Stritch over the past few years. Last season, the Cardinals finished 22-3 and went 10-0 in the TAAC.
Stritch has won three out of five TAAC titles since Donnelly took over.
“Part of the problem with some of these teams is, I don’t know if they have any belief they can beat us and maybe that holds them back from playing to their potential,” Donnelly admitted.
Sweeping through the conference sometimes doesn’t bode well for teams when they have to play stiffer competition. Donnelly said the Cardinals try to schedule tough non-conference opponents every year.
“We’ve tried to beef up our non-league,” she said. “We’ve played Evergreen, Swanton, Gibsonburg ... We’re always playing in the (Central Catholic) Irish Invitational, and that’s always tough competition. We always have Tiffin Calvert near the end of the season.
“I don’t know what else we can do as far as non-league, or maybe get in a different league. We take it as it comes. We try to make the non-league schedule so that the girls can experience tougher competition.”
The Cardinals placed fourth at the eight-team Irish Invitational, beating Erie Mason and losing to Northview and Central Catholic. Stritch also lost to Maumee in the first match of the season.
One aspect of the game the Cardinals have been able to consistently hang their hat on has been serving. The team drills daily with Donnelly and assistant coaches Dave Habeggar and his daughter, Kristen.
“We’re not super small, and one of the things we do is serve the ball well,” Donnelly said. “That doesn't allow the other team to run much of their offense. Northwood has a much bigger team than we do, but they couldn’t return our serves.
“Its not just go and serve the ball over the net. We have more of an objective serving than that. We strive for locations of serve and toughness of serve. You want it to come over the net fast and have movement to it.”
Donnelly said Stritch is getting solid play from senior right side hitter Julie Long, who at 5-9 is the team’s tallest player.
“She’s a left-handed right side hitter, so it makes the defense adjust to her left hand,” Donnelly said. “She does a nice job running quick plays in the middle and serve receive, so they have to keep an eye on where she’s coming from.”
Left side hitter and back row player Jessica Turner-Smith, a 5-7 senior, and the 5-5 Blazevich are also playing well.
“Jess is a team captain and she is a great leader,” Donnelly said. “She’s doing a great job, not only keeping the team energized and enthused about volleyball, but she shows them how to play the game.
“Alex, we call her our fearless hitter. She’s always swinging away and putting pressure on the other team. It doesn’t matter if it’s game point, she’s out there hitting hard.”