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Can you dig it - Wildcats serve up a dilemma

September 22, 2000

Can you dig it - Wildcats serve up a dilemma



By DAN SPEARS / Staff Writer


WILLIAMSPORT - As the final drill of the Williamsport volleyball practice starts, coach Kristi Gee calls out, "OK, moderately hard serves, ladies!"

One by one, her charges step to the line, and up the ball flies. To the casual observer, some of these shots seem sure to go into the net or out of bounds. But one by one, they fall into the nether regions of the court - the 10-foot line, the right sideline, the back line, the opposite deep corner.

This is moderately hard?

Thirty good serves in a row later, the team lets out a yell. The drill is complete on the first try.

"I think that's maybe the second time we've done it all year," sophomore Katie Spoonire says, and then gets confirmation from her teammates. "Yeah, so that's nice."

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The way the Wildcats serve, two seems like a low number. The defending Class 1A champs have been known for their fundamental play in the past, but they're taking things to a whole new level behind the service line in 2000.

Five regulars are serving above 95 percent for the season, a key reserve stands at 100 percent, and two other regulars lead the team in aces. All in all, it's service with a smile - taken to a wicked extreme for their opponents in the Monocacy Valley Athletic League.

"I don't have to worry about them at all," Gee said. "It helps out in other aspects, too. We don't have to spend time in the beginning on serving. ... In fact, that's the thing we spend the least amount of time on during practice."

Serving isn't work at Williamsport, it's virtually second nature. And it has been for some time.

"We'll serve during drills, and if you miss a serve there, you do pushups and then serve again," junior Meghan Foley said. "If you can't get the serve over, you can't do the drills."

"I don't know what they do at Williamsport, but those three are my best servers here," said Catawba College coach Ginger Ashley, who currently coaches Wildcat alumnae Ann Fulk, Lettie Wilkes and Megan Bowman. Wilkes leads the Indians in aces, while Bowman is second while leading the team in serving percentage.

For all you rival coaches looking for the angle, though, there's no secret to uncover.

"You can't get a point without having the serve," Spoonire said. "You can play a great point, do all this stuff, but if you don't have the serve, it's not worth much."

The best example may have been earlier this month at the Lady Spartan Tournament at McConnellsburg, where Williamsport defended its title thanks to 97.4 percent (76-for-78) serving in the final against the host team.

A draining day for an injury-depleted team was saved when the Wildcats came up with 12 points on aces and service winners to rally from three match points down.

"I was looking across the net at them and saw they were just drained, and I was thinking, 'We've got to look the same way,'" Spoonire said. "That's when it helps that we do all our serving at the end of practice."

"That's it exactly," Gee followed. "You get in that five-set match, you're tired, and you've got to serve. I think we know what to feel at that point."

This would seem normal for a team with a lot of experience or one overpowering server, and yet Williamsport does not fit that description. The Wildcats have four new starters, only three seniors overall, and their highest ace percentage comes from Meghan Foley, at one ace every two games.

"I haven't stressed the aces. What do I say, ladies?," Gee says, and is answered with a resounding chorus of "Over and in."

"(Aces are) a lot of pressure," sophomore Meggie Miller said. "And with more pressure, it's harder to get that ball over."

Gee and assistant coaches Susie Miller and Selena Wilkes don't put much pressure on - they'll give instructions when they see something but, otherwise, the flight of the ball is up to her servers.

The only requirement is to not mess up on game point.

"You get to game point, and you're not thinking, 'Oh, you missed the serve.' It's, 'Oh, you've got three hills to run,'" said Porac, referring to the hill right outside the school's gymnasium and the punishment that follows a botched attempt to close someone out.

"We all know that when it's 14-13 and someone goes back to serve, we're not like, 'Oh, she might not make this,'" Porac said. "We know that ball is going in."

Simple, yet effective

It all starts with the team's first serve, which usually comes from junior Kristine Porac.

"That first ball, you just want to hit it hard and in the court," said Porac, who stands at 95.8 percent this year. "After that, you don't worry about missing at all."

Usually, neither do her teammates. The team sets goals at the beginning of each match for serving percentage and it goes up from there. By the end of a rotation, everybody knows what's going on.

"As soon as you turn around back there, you're looking," said sophomore Meggie Miller, who leads the starters with a 96.9 percentage and is responsible for 3 ppg. "That, and you learn from the other servers."

When no one misses in front of you, you get a good look at everything.

"Usually I'll watch the first few," Spoonire said. "Then you watch the other side. And some of the new players they bring in. Or if they're yelling at somebody over there."

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