Setting the record straight: Quarterbacks on the volleyball court

Unheralded and sometimes underappreciated, setters can make or break a volleyball team, serving as the de facto quarterbacks on the court

When Angelo Brown and Will Delaney step under center Friday night, all eyes will be on them.

Each young man — Brown for Rantoul, Delaney for Fisher — will have plenty of pressure on them under the spotlights of the brimming bulbs at Bill Walsh Field and Kellar Field, respectively.

Brown is the Eagles quarterback who will be facing a tall task of becoming the go-to playmaker, leader and face of the Rantoul football team.

Delaney faces the unenvious, pressure-packed role of taking over from the Bunnies’ signal caller last year — the strong-armed, quick-footed Kade Thomas, who led them to their first playoff appearance in four seasons.

It is surely an exciting, albeit nerve-racking, time for the two athletes as they get their respective seasons under way. Each one’s consistency as starting quarterback figures to be key as the season stretches into October, and most people are well aware of how impactful their production will be.

It’s not exactly the same for Armstrong-Potomac’s Hope Hambleton and Emma Franzen; Rantoul’s Bella Shields and Jocelyn Rodriguez; Fisher’s Cameron McGrew and Kylee Bishop.

Each will be flying under a radar with a much weaker signal than that of starting high school quarterback, but their roles as setters for their respective volleyball teams are still excruciatingly crucial — quarterback on the court.

“It’s like (head coach Candy Franzen) said, you have to know all the positions around you and be the leader on the court for them,” Hambleton said of the setter position. “You have a lot on your shoulders. You’ve got to carry the team and know the right play to do at a certain time.”

It’s a bit of a debate as to whether the term “quarterback on the court” accurately describes a setter.

The differences between the positions are clear to see. Most notably, a quarterback is almost always the star of a football team.

As Jim Iams, former Team USA volleyball assistant coach and former volleyball head coach at the University of Georgia, wrote, “It’s the position that gets the glory, the headlines and most of the credit for a team’s success.”

Iams argues that most successful quarterbacks enjoy the attention that comes with the position’s spotlight, and that, “A lot of young setters these days have that mindset too, but the great ones don’t. In that respect, great setters are quite different than many great quarterbacks.

“Remember, unlike the quarterback, the setter does not sell tickets. The setter is not the player most people come to watch. Simply stated, the setter is not the star.”

Setters do not yearn for the spotlight to be on them, he says, instead giving way to the power hitters and playmakers who make the loud, spectacular kills that typically draw the most awe-filled reactions from fans and teammates.

In other words, perhaps a setter is more comparable to an offensive lineman — doing the thankless job of making the simple, unglamorous plays that provide the backbone of a football team’s success.

Let’s look at the flip side, though, where the stark similarities between the two positions are also plain to see, as setters …

… are in charge of the offense, reading the opponent’s defense to make split-second decisions on who should get the ball and when.

… prior to the serve, survey the floor to ensure all their teammates are lined up correct.

… must communicate with each hitter to make sure each one knows what play is being run and what set they must hit.

… touch the ball on nearly every play, and if they don’t, something most likely went wrong.

… must have good hands, quality leadership/communication skills, make quick decisions, be consistent and have a firm IQ of the game.

Those are the most obvious similarities between setter and quarterback, but perhaps the most striking comparison is the one Hambleton made … knowledge of all positions on the court.

“I do see that,” Rantoul volleyball head coach Traci Riddle said of the comparison. “A setter runs your team, and my libero runs my team as well. I see those two a lot because they should be your leaders. The setter runs everything. They really are (like a quarterback).”

Riddle’s stance is mostly shared by the other two area coaches as well.

“I would say that’s fair,” said A-P coach Candy Franzen, who says her system is mainly built around her setters. “Just because they’re in every play. They touch the ball every play. I would definitely agree they are. You have to have them. You wouldn’t be an effective team if you didn’t have a great setter.”

“I do look at them as a quarterback, but I do look at it as it needs to be a team effort from everyone on the court,” Fisher coach Brooke Clemmons said. “It definitely deserves the quarterback title, but I expect that kind of aggressive hard work from every single person on the court.

“We need to be able to play together no matter who the six are. If you’re in a certain situation where your main setter does get hurt, that’s going to be very detrimental because that’s how I look at it — they are the quarterback in a sense. They have to be able to know where everybody is on the court, whereas most of the time, if you’re playing a different position, you just have to focus on yours.”

It’s a situation Riddle’s squad has found itself in that Franzen and Clemmons hope to avoid — an unhealthy setter.

The Eagles’ projected starting setter, Gillian Gawenda, suffered her second torn ACL and will miss the entire season, leaving Riddle scrambling to find a replacement. Unfortunately for the sixth-year head coach, she won’t have experience to rely on.

Instead, the most important position on the court will be taken on by the sophomore Shields and freshman Rodriguez. Though Shields got some experience last year and Rodriguez is a coachable, quick learner who can push Shields throughout practice and games, Riddle says, “it’s tough for a freshman or a sophomore to come in and run a team.

“The girls receive them so well, though. They don’t see them as a freshman or sophomore. They see them as their setter. (They have a mindset of), ‘If you do what I need you to do so I can do what I need to do, (there won’t be any problems).’”

The other two area teams seem to be in better, more stable setter situations, leaning both on veteran savvy and youthful exuberance.

The Trojans are led by the senior Hambleton and sophomore Franzen, both of whom have been working well in tandem together. Hambleton, who has been setting since grade school, says she is more than comfortable in the role she has been taking on for about seven years, and Franzen garnered some praise from teammate Sarah Porter for her improvement during the offseason.

“I love it,” Franzen said of her setter situation. “We have a senior and a sophomore, and they work well together. Hope’s helping to give Emma confidence because she is a sophomore and it’s her first year playing high school ball. … Emma’s got that long, lanky body, and that makes a big difference when you’re a setter. You can move around a bit more.”

For the Bunnies, senior captain Cameron McGrew will be taking junior Kylee Bishop under her wing a bit, and both may see the court at the same time this season.

Each one has experience, and Clemmons is hoping that will help lead to more quick sets that she wants to run in 2018.

“I am very lucky with two hard-working setters who are constantly eager to learn,” Clemmons said.

Contact Zack Carpenter at and on Twitter @ZackCarpenter11.

Categories (3):Prep Sports, Volleyball, Sports


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