As Paige Chinchen rises for another kill to complete a set win for Lower Columbia, it would be easy to overlook the fundamentally solid play that put the Kalama freshman hitter in position to send another laser into a unmanned area of the opponent’s terrain.
Easy to miss, but stupid to ignore.
The key element of any good volleyball team is their execution of the fundamentals of the game – digging, passing, setting and hitting as well as how they rotate in rotation to be in the correct defensive position when the ball is returned to their side of the net.
Lower Columbia has been extremely solid in those aspects of the game through the first two weeks of its season while rising to the top of the AFAC West Region standings with a 10-2 record.
The Red Devils secured their 10th victory of the season on Tuesday with a dominant three-set victory over Shoreline by scores of 25-10, 25-11 and 25-20 at Myklebust Gymnasium. Lower Columbia was led by Kate Onespot-Danforth with 17 assists and five kills, while a pair of sophomores in Katy Cooper and Jazzy Golly each had a dozen digs.
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Natalie Bergner played a determined game for Shoreline. She had seven kills and 11 digs in the losing effort.
Despite the arrival of eight new freshmen, LCC coach Carri Smith is pleased with the improvement her team has shown in these fundamental aspects of the game over the past few weeks.
“We worked on that,” Smith said. “Having such a young team, a lot of new faces this year, we’ve got a lot of talent but unless you really work on the base, those fundamentals, you won’t get to see those other skills. (And we are still working hard on our passing (and) trying to improve our defence.”
Lower Columbia opened the season winning eight of their first nine games before losing to Bellevue in four sets on September 7. His only other loss came to defending NWAC champions Linn-Benton on September 2.
In the Lower Columbia sweep on Shoreline, all of those skills were on display. From setting up first-year passers Alex Tinsley and Onespot-Danforth to digging Libero Arianna Vreeland (team-high 23) and clean play from Chinchen (six kills) and Brooke Parsons (8 kills to team-high of the team), the team showed strength in all aspects of the game.
“Obviously a lot of that comes down to gelling well, which is what we tried to do last month, playing together, finding the right formation,” Smith added. “We have a lot of ball control in this formation, but we still have firepower. (Our) hitters work hard to know when to shoot and when to make more field goal shots.
Speaking of those timely placement shots, the Red Devils showed their ability to catch their opponent off guard several times with well-timed passer-by shots in the opening two sets against Shoreline. It’s a tactic that keeps the opponent off balance and not knowing when to defend the net.
Lower Columbia built an opening set advantage against Shoreline when Cooper made a 12-0 serve to give the Red Devils a 21-9 lead, before winning the set 25-10. The second set didn’t come much closer despite a pair of long rallies that fell in Shoreline’s favor. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, a side who came to Longview without a win in their four matches and lost 12 of 14 sets played in 2022, those points were not enough to overcome the initial 5-0 deficit in which they have found each other.
The Red Devils built a 15-5 lead which increased to 21-5 before winning the set 25-11. A key block from second student Jayden Foster put Lower Columbia in position to serve the set.
The third set was a tight back-and-forth affair, with nine draws and four lead changes. But, ultimately, the Red Devils prevailed as Cooper delivered a key ace to put the team ahead 20-19 and Onespot-Danforth had two kills for points 21 and 24.
Everything the Red Devils do is controlled, from digging and passing to the varying depths of their sets. Most importantly, the Red Devils communicate effectively on the pitch, allowing each player to fulfill their role to the best of their abilities.
“Our setters handled the offense really well and Kaitlyn did a great job at net when she was up front,” Cooper said. “I think our passing – Ari is doing a great job on the back line passing very well on serve/reception that starts the game and I think our defense is molding very well with all of us talking.”
Vreeland believes the addition of the two first-year passers and the way Onespot-Danforth and Tinsley hit the ground without error were key to the Red Devils’ early success.
“The freshmen come in and just play,” Vreeland said. “Our two starting setters are freshmen this year, Kate Onespot-Danforth and Alex Tinsley, and they are definitely essential players on our team.”
Tinsley, from Nampa, Idaho, and Onespot-Danforth, from Helena, Montana, arrived with great talent. That said, Coach Smith worked hard with the freshmen and the six other rookie college players (including RA Long’s Y Ta) to improve the team’s passing, setting and defense. It’s a work in progress, but the team has really found a high level of play at the start of the season.
“I think probably in the second, third week it started to click together, we started getting it. We obviously have the skill level to start with, but I feel like our passing has already improved,” Smith said. “Our defense in particular… We’ve been really focused on our defense lately.”
After picking up another win on Tuesday, rest assured that Lower Columbia will be back at work on Wednesday working on the fundamentals of the game in practice.
LCC (10-2) will play at Linfield University on Friday before competing in the Mt. Hood Crossover Tournament this weekend in Gresham, Oregon.