Volleyball

Syracuse volleyball relies on ‘quick dump’ hit to freeze opponents

Sabrina Koenig | Staff Photographer

Syracuse volleyball is using a hit that knuckle balls and has confused its opponents.

Mackenzie Weaver rose in the air and wasn’t trying to generate velocity. As the ball hit her hand following a pass, it slowed down.

She flung her arm and wrist toward the ball in a circular motion as if it was a fly on the wall, and gently, but swiftly swatted the ball down the right hand side of the court. It knuckled to the ground and Syracuse tied the set 2-2.

Later in the set, down 12-8, middle blocker Santita Ebangwese performed the very same technique, only down the center of the court. It put Syracuse closer in the set and continued a pattern that keyed Syracuse’s win against Louisville on Oct. 9 and the season so far.

While not many things have been consistent for SU this year, Syracuse (5-15, 4-6 Atlantic Coast) has found success in “the quick dump” pushes, which leave opponents frozen as the ball knuckles past them and toward open space. As a result, it’s become a popular move among the Orange’s front line and setters.

“That is my favorite shot,” said Weaver. “… That was honestly my favorite move (in high school. My teammates) called it ‘The Kenz’ in high school, I don’t know why they would do it. My assistant coach called it that and she thought it was funny so that’s kinda what they call it from now on.”

Against then-No. 17 Penn State on Sept. 10 the shot kept Syracuse alive in the first set against a superior opponent. Against Boston College on Sept. 23 it made up for a multitude of errors from the serve and attack. In SU’s most recent home game against Louisville the move helped the Orange outplay the Cardinals and win one of its most convincing matches of the season.

The shot is used to get quick points and to throw the opponent off its game.

Ebangwese, who used the move at Pittsford Sutherland (New York) High School, observed the form when hitting the ball makes it look like a tip and fools opponents into thinking the shot will come at them faster than it actually will. Setter Jalissa Trotter, Ebangwese and Weaver who use the move most on the team, all say the shot is often used when there is seemingly no space available and a slower deliberate shot is needed.

“(When) I don’t have a lot of shots to hit, I’m kinda tight, I don’t know what’s going on,” Weaver said. “I just need to put the ball down, I need to put it down fast where they’re not going to be.”

And while the shot isn’t conventional and can be risky at times due to its slower velocity, it requires a specific volleyball IQ and vision that head coach Leonid Yelin welcomes to his team.

“I can teach (other shots and techniques),” Yelin said. “But to teach you which one to pick in every situation, I don’t know how. That’s what we call a gift, talent … it’s all in a volleyball hitter’s arsenal.”

Knowing that space is available and timing the shot at just the right touch is what makes the shot work.

But players have to think about what happens if the push is unsuccessful. They have to take into account where the setter is on the court for a possible dig, if a block is going to come from the middle or the sides and how much space the defense is giving up around the court.

Ebangwese sees the move’s success as a sign that it won’t be leaving anytime soon and an advantage over other teams that prefer not to use it.

“If it works, why mess with something that works,” Ebangwese said.

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