Despite its experienced core of middle blockers, the Elon University volleyball team has been in a transition period this year as it installs a new style of blocking.
Elon’s been using a technique called swing blocking that results in more elevation and momentum into its blocks.
Instead of just jumping straight up when blocking, players swing their arms to get an extra push going up. They cross over their feet instead of shuffling to help with that momentum as well.
There have been some challenges so far, but overall, Elon head coach Mary Tendler is happy with what she’s seen from it. She said it’s especially helped with some of the shorter blockers Elon has, such as 5-foot-9-inch senior Danielle Smith.
“We’re able to get over the net higher and press a little more,” Tendler said. “Sometimes we get in trouble with it, but for the most part, we’re doing a good job of it.”
Elon’s main middle blockers are senior Kris Harris, junior Catherine Head and sophomore Ally Karle, but with injuries to a number of players recently, others have had to step in to help fill the void.
The new style of blocking was installed last winter by Tendler but took a while for everyone to adjust.
“We had some individual sessions and practices where it did not go very well,” said junior outside hitter Megan Gravley. “But we picked it up and got it under control.”
So far, there’s been a noticeable improvement in the blocking aspect of Elon’s game. The Phoenix has 128.5 blocks overall with just 14 errors. Opponents have 111.0 total blocks and 25 errors.
“I’m proud that we’ve been closing blocks with the new swing approach,” Harris said. “It helps us get there quicker and helps us get up more.”
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The adjustment was harder for Harris, who missed the second half of last season because of a knee injury. She’s been back since the season opener but still wears a brace on her knee.
Harris toyed with swing blocking while playing club volleyball in high school but had never really pursued learning it.
“I was able to see what everyone was doing but couldn’t physically do it,” Harris said. “I had to kind of learn it in a different way. I’m definitely improving.”
While Elon’s blockers could practice it as much as they wanted to, there was still a bit of unknown when the style was first employed during a match. The Phoenix blockers adjusted based on the style of sets the opponent uses, whether it’s high and to the pins or lower and closer to the center.
In all, it’s meant to keep the opponent’s setter and hitters guessing.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Tendler said. “It’s harder for hitters on the other side to see where we’re coming from because they come up at the last second. It’s not a static block. They can’t see someone right in front of them.“
Through 17 games, Tendler said she’s happy with how the style has come along. According to her, it’s here to stay.
“It’s working well, and it’s something we’re sticking with,” she said.