Some players dribble the ball. Others spin it in the palm of their hand. Another can bounce the ball with both hands a number of times so precise that it is borderline obsessive-compulsive.
All of this prepares for what most volleyball coaches rank above all other skills: serving.
“It’s the most important thing you can do,” Valencia coach Ray Sanchez said. “Service is the most important skill at all levels. “
Good serve can set the tone for an entire game. Bad service could spell the end. And in the Foothill League, there are a lot of good serves.
The goal of the service line may vary depending on the opponent or the game scenario. A constant priority, regardless of the situation, is to eliminate the opponent’s offense from the system.
“If you have really good serve and you keep them out of the system, you’re going to get a lot of free balls,” Hart’s Megan Soto said. “We get a lot of free balloons and we can run them.”
Soto, who currently has 24 aces, could break the Indians’ ace record in a single season this year. She will have to crack 64 for the honor.
Soto has an incredibly precise floating serve, one that coach Mary Irilian says hits the target area on the pitch almost 99 percent of the time. Although the service jump float is an advanced style of service, it is not always the best choice.
Valencia players learn each type of serve and rotate into the most appropriate serving style depending on the playing situation.
Saugus’ Kayla Tait uses a top spin serve, which begins with a one-handed throw that creates a spin on the ball. Standing at five feet and five inches, Tait’s style works to his advantage and has earned him 41 pre-league and league aces.
“For our team, this is the most important thing because we are so undersized,” Tait said. “It’s not like we’re a big, powerful team so we get our points back on the serve line and that’s how we win games.”
Saugus is so far undefeated in the Foothill League and the credits have been a big part of their success. Hart is the only other undefeated team in the league and attributes the same skills to wins.
“Put the pressure on (the other teams) offensively, they start to burn out and break down,” said Irilian. “It just gives you, at the end of the day, a better chance of winning if you’re very efficient at serving. “
Aces can also drastically change the momentum of a game. Centurions coach Zach Ambrose recalls a five-ace game for Tait that generated countless free balls and, as a result, points. A victory in which Soto executed four consecutive aces stands out in the minds of Irilian.
“It absolutely carries the team,” Irilian said. “It obviously gives you a cushion, and then everyone gets pumped and the server gets pumped because then they come on the pitch, no matter what happened with this game, they’re ready to move on and do more.”
As much as good service can win matches, poor service can also be a hindrance. After sharing the Foothill League title last season, the Vikings have struggled to come out of the gate this year and put some of the blame on the serve.
So they are working to fix it.
“We’ve had all-service training,” said Avery Cop of Valencia. “We spent the whole two hours practicing serving, and then each day I think we spend at least an hour serving. Serving is super critical.
Strengthening services is as much a priority for the best teams in the league as it is for those in difficulty.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Irilian said. “There are some games that we have been very effective in serving and they can see their percentages. There are other games that we will still win where we are terrible at the service.
“So just go back to the drawing board and assess what’s wrong and how can we keep working on it. “