Throughout preseason practice, Stetson head coach Kristina Hernandez knew some aspects of her team's play were stronger than others. Blocking, however, was one area needing improvement.
"I felt we were not doing a good job of identifying what kind of ball was being passed and where the (opponent's) middles were, and what the options were," Hernandez said. "So we spent a great deal of time during the preseason just trying to slow that down and chunk it out."
That extra focus paid dividends in the very first match of the season as the Hatters put up 13 blocks in a dramatic 3-2 come-from-behind victory over McNeese State. Only once last season did Stetson record as many as 13 blocks in a match.
"Our reading was better," Hernandez said about the team's blocking game. "You could definitely tell that this past weekend. We just made better decisions in terms of understanding what the options were going to be and seeing which hitters were being set the most once we got into match. We hope that it continues."
The Hatters (2-1) enter this weekend's tournament at The Citadel tied for the Atlantic Sun lead with an average of 2.00 blocks per set. Middle blocker Erika White leads all A-Sun players with a 1.17 blocks-per-set average. The Hatter senior posted a career-high eight blocks against McNeese State, just one shy of tying the school record in the rally scoring era.
"That felt great, and surprised the heck out of myself," White said. "But I can't do it without the pin blockers. They set it up perfectly on the outsides and the right sides and we shut it down."
Also having a strong weekend at the net was junior right side Cailyn Prewitt, who finished with five blocks against McNeese and nine for the tournament overall.
"We really worked on talking to each other more and calling if the pass is on or off," Prewitt said. "That really helped us decide which side we should cheat to or which side we knew we had to go to. We were a lot smarter about communicating with each other more."
In addition, freshman middle blocker Shelby Connors recorded eight blocks, freshman outside hitter McKenna Foster tallied seven blocks, junior right side Madison Akins collected five blocks, and junior setter Kayla Weller added four blocks.
"Those are great numbers and we told them," Hernandez said. "It is something we want to keep maintaining up there and keep getting better at. The middles did a much better job of closing and the defense worked around that."
The Hatters will look to improve on their 2-1 start they face Charleston Southern (1-2) at 4 p.m. Friday. On Saturday, Stetson will face North Carolina A&T (0-4) at 10 a.m. and The Citadel (1-2) at 1 p.m. Live stats will be available for all three matches. Free video for the Stetson match vs. The Citadel will also be available on the SoCon Digital Network.
Hat-Alerts and the Stetson volleyball twitter feed will provide in-game updates as well.
Ace in the Hole: The Hatters also enter the weekend leading the conference in service aces per set (1.82). Serving has been one of the team's strong points throughout the preseason.
"Serving improved from Friday to Saturday," Hernandez said. "We were really happy with that. I think that it is going to be a continued strength for us. We just want a minimize a few more of those errors and make the numbers a little higher on the ace side. I think the blocking and the serving together will be a good defensive weapon for us."