McKinzey guiding Panthers’ offense

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Senior setter Kelly McKinzey sets the ball during a Panthers sweep on Friday. Liberty Hill is 4-0 in District 25-4A play. (Kathy Canady Photo)

Senior setter Kelly McKinzey sets the ball during a Panthers sweep on Friday. Liberty Hill is 4-0 in District 25-4A play. (Kathy Canady Photo)

By BOB VARMETTE

Played well, volleyball is about speed – speed in transitioning from defense to offense, speed in setting and speed in attacking.

It takes hitters to finish off the point and back-row players to start it. Between them is the setter, who needs to have eyes in the back of her head and hearing that allows her to discern the voices of teammates that bleed into the cacophony of a match.

“When everyone’s working with me and it’s going well. I love it,” Liberty Hill senior setter Kelly McKinzey said. “I love setting my hitters – they’re all awesome and I can depend on all of them. Without the (defensive specialists) and their passes, I couldn’t set the hitters, so it all just kind of comes together.”

It did all come together for the Lady Panthers this season, who have a 21-12 overall record and a 4-0 mark in District 25-4A.

“Kelly, our setter, had more options of who she could move the ball around to,” Liberty Hill Coach Gretchen Peterson said after a victory on Friday. “It really opened up our offense for us.”

McKinzey, a second-year varsity player, but a first-year starter, does have a lot of options. The Lady Panthers are loaded with hitting talent – Jill Green, Peyton Redmond, Jaycie Pluenneke, to name just a few.

That means McKinzey has to be aware of not only what the defense is doing, but also has to be able to keep track of where her hitters are.

Liberty Hill thrives on having diversity. A team with one go-to girl becomes a one-dimensional team and a team that’s easy to defend.

That’s kind of how it was in the first game against Salado last Friday. Green had four kills on 12 attacks for the Lady Panthers – no one else had more than one kill and four attacks.

“We do have some phenomenal hitters – Jill is very athletic, I think Peyton Redmond is very athletic, but if we have to rely on just one it’s very easy to stop one,” Peterson said. “You just set a double block on them and we don’t want to ever have to put it on one person. We would really like to spread it out to make their defense have to make decisions.”

In the final three games against Salado, the Lady Panthers committed fewer errors and communicated better. That allowed McKinzey to take advantage of her options, and Pluenneke finished with a team-high nine kills, Green and Redmond with six each, and Allee Nix with five.

Communication is the key to a setter taking advantage of hitters like Liberty Hill is blessed with, and senior Hallie Supak helped jolt the Lady Panthers into a more balanced attack in Game 2, which carried them through the end of the match.

“We weren’t playing as a team – there was a lot of miscommunication,” Supak said. “(Coach) tells me to be the spark. So after the first game, I come in and try to talk because I’m loud.”

Being loud is a good thing.

“Sometimes, there’s a little bit of miscommunication, but it happens,” McKinzey said. “They always talk to me really well, and they know that if they don’t talk to me I won’t hear them, and chances are I won’t set them.”

The quest for balance places a lot of pressure on a first-year varsity setter – any setter, for that matter – who has to move the ball around and employ different sets to keep the defense constantly adjusting.

It can be confusing, at times for McKinzey, but she’s handling her first season as Liberty Hill’s primary setter well, Peterson said. McKinzey isn’t the most athletic setter, but makes up for it in other areas.

Working hard and being focused, and having her teammates’ backs endears her to her coach and her team.

“She’ll run through a wall for her teammates, and they know that,” Peterson said. “She handles pressure very well. She’s not dramatic, she’s very steady and she doesn’t let things affect her.”

Added McKinzey: “We all click really well. There’s not really just one – it’s all of us together.”

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