We’ve got middles today! Let me be clear on one thing, the best position in volleyball is the middle. Only the truly great athlete can play the position and I’m not saying that because I was a middle. Okay, maybe I am but let me share my advice that I give to all middles, “You are never wrong. If you want the first ball, take the first ball. If you want the second ball, take the second ball. If you don’t get the third ball, let your setter know that you want the third ball. Be aggressive and never apologize…especially to setters. You are the tallest person on the court, everyone else is beneath you.” Now, my setter daughter never truly appreciated this advice but it remains true.
As a reminder, I chose players based on awards won in 2017 and after sprinkling in some of the NCAA statistical leaders from last year. I’m sure this will cause some excellent players to fall through the crack but hopefully any anger generated will be focused on this upcoming season and not to me personally.
Zhartaezia Bradley (Howard Payne – Middle – Senior)
I always like to see those junior college transfers when evaluating teams and Bradley shows us why. After her freshman year playing at a junior college she came to Howard Payne and immediately contributed in 2016 (earning All-West Division Newcomer of the Year). Bradley followed that season up with a better one earning first team All-Conference honors. Bradley recorded 388 points on the year while averaging 3.63 points a set (168th nationally). She had 319 kills (192nd nationally), 90 total blocks (102nd nationally) that included 22 solos and 13 service aces. Her best match last season was a 24 kill (27.5 point) effort against McMurry. Bradley is only listed at 5’10” but it’s her leaping ability that sets her apart. It will be interesting to see if Bradley can lead the Yellow Jackets to a conference playoff spot in 2018.
Regan Dinovitz (CMS – Middle – Sophomore) &
Melanie Moore (CMS – Middle – Sophomore)
Raise your hand if, as a freshman, you contributed towards a national championship. Yeah, I see you Dinovitz and Moore but now what are you going to do? What a freshman year; I can only imagine. I’m going to group these two together because it makes me sick a school will get four-years of amazing middle play like these student-athletes will provide. Moore made my list for most efficient hitters at 0.355 (20th nationally) and was honored with first-team All-Conference in the SCIAC and won All-Tournament honors at the Southwestern Regional. While Dinovitz didn’t get the same amount of publicity, she proved what an outstanding blocker she is last year with 108 total blocks (37th nationally) while averaging 1.14 blocks a set (13th nationally). Moore finished the year with 176 kills, 21 service aces and 80 total blocks leading to 243.5 points on the season. Dinovitz wasn’t far behind as she recorded 214 points. With all of the graduation loss that CMS experienced, there are questions to be had; just not at middle blocker…for the next three years. Sigh.
Lauren Friend (Chapman – Middle – Senior)
Friend is a two-year starter that earned first-team All-Conference honors in the SCIAC last season. She made my list of the most efficient hitters in the West Region hitting 0.330 (39th nationally) but she also shines at the net finishing the year with 80 total blocks (185th nationally) and averaging 0.89 blocks a set (92nd nationally). When you factor in her 197 kills and 14 service aces, she ended up with 261.5 total points. Her best matches were a 16 kill performance against Oxy and a 20.5 point effort against Vanguard. I believe Chapman will need to lean on Friend even more this year to maintain a playoff spot in the SCIAC.
Mackenzie Harris (Pacific Lutheran – Middle – Senior)
Harris has been a main cog for the Lutes in the three years she’s been on campus and just keeps improving. She is arguably the best middle in the NWC but somehow only made the second-team All-Conference. This slight was compensated for a bit with her selection on the first-team All-Region team and she was also an honorable mention All-American. Harris just missed out on my most efficient hitters list, but she would be at the top of any best blockers list. She finished the year with 118 (15th nationally) while averaging 1.28 blocks a set. That blocks per set average is the 2nd best nationally and the best in the West Region. Harris also had 224 kills and finished the year with 295.5 points. Harris steps up her game when it matters as evidence by a 22.5 point effort against CMS and another 22.5 point effort against Trinity in the Southwestern Regional.
Justice McGowan (McMurry – Middle – Junior)
McMurry has just completed their reclassifying time period and are now a full DIII member. At the end of last season, being ineligible for NCAA tournaments, McMurry participated in the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) Tournaments so McGowan’s stats aren’t fully represented in the NCAA DIII database. Regardless, she had an impressive year and the stats shown will be for the entire year. Let’s start with 392.5 points for the season on 312 kills and 119 total blocks with 32 solos! After only two years, McGowan is already prominent in the McMurry record book with two of their best seasons ever in hitting percentage and is currently the career leader in that category. I believe McMurry can make a run at a division title in the ASC this year and McGowan is a large part of this reasoning.
Sarah Paolini (Mary Hardin-Baylor – Middle – Junior)
Paolini was the most efficient hitter in the West Region last season and was honored with first-team All-Conference in the ASC. If you didn’t know, UMHB has a wonderful nursing program and I’ve been told that to play volleyball there and do nursing is next to impossible. Well, that makes Sarah Paolini Miss Impossible (and no, Tom Cruise will not be playing her in the movie). (Note – I’m not 100% confident on that joke. My dad side really likes it but I think I can do better.) Paolini has a 4.00 GPA in the nursing program, which landed her on the CoSIDA Academic All-District Team and she was honored with second-team Academic All-American. Now, back to what’s important…volleyball. In addition to her hitting, Paolini had 100 blocks (64th nationally) and averaged 0.93 blocks per set (66th nationally). She finished the year with 340 points and had a monster match against UT-Dallas where she had 19.5 points.
Lauren Schilling (UT-Dallas – Middle – Junior)
Schilling is another smart one as she was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District Team as well as first-team All-Conference in the ASC. Another great blocker as she finished the year with 121 total blocks (13th nationally) while averaging 0.98 blocks per set (49th nationally). Schilling has contributed to the team’s success in both her first two years and is only getting better. She accumulated 323 points in 2017 with 253 kills. Moving into 2018 and with the graduation of first-team All-Region middle Emma Wallbrown, Schilling will become even more important and a 400 point season is not out of the question.
Marissa Stinson (Concordia – Middle – Junior)
The ASC sure has a lot of great middles right now and we’ll conclude this post with another one. Stinson was a first-team All-Conference selection while finishing the year with 398 points consisting of 335 kills (155th nationally), 7 service aces and 95 total blocks (78th nationally). Two things really set Stinson apart and that is her height (listed as 5’7”) and how much she gets set. To be this good at that height is just impressive. As far as her usage, her numbers look more like an outside hitter. She recorded 3.49 points per set, which is good for 224th nationally, but you just don’t see middles get enough chances to have that high of an average. Her 2.94 kills per set is also unusually high for a middle blocker. That right arm is extremely valuable to the Tornados and they will be looking for a repeat performance in 2018.