Another story idea that came from the 2019 Recruit page was what is the toughest position to recruit for DIII coaches? I’ve always believed it to be middles. As a former middle; we have to be smart, athletic, tall, good looking and also be modest enough to allow the setters to run the show even though we know that we are much better qualified for that task. Yes, quality middles have to win the DNA lottery, which, in my mind, makes them the toughest to find. Seeking confirmation, I reached out to a number of DIII West Region coaches and, when all of the votes were cast, I was right (modestly speaking, of course)!
One of the first things a number of coaches mentioned, which strayed from my specific instructions, was that when it comes to recruiting it’s just tough overall to find athletes that can play at this level that also have the grades and money that will get them in the door. I mean that is the trick of DIII; most of the West Region schools are private, expensive and have tough academic requirements for entrance.
Another coach that went off script made the point that whatever position she absolutely needs that specific year always seems to be the hardest. You have to believe there is some intense internal pressure building up each day in a coach’s life when they still haven’t filled a critical need for the next season.
Now to the results and let’s talk about the toughest position first since I’ve already given you a major spoiler. When all of the votes were cast, middles were at the top of the pack receiving not only the most votes but the most first place votes, as well. I had a number of coaches talk about how they have to switch outside hitters or right side players to middle just to get by and that certainly can work but in the end the tall athletic middle with good footwork is the hardest get in DIII volleyball.
My second guess at toughest position was setter and that position received votes from every coach while being listed second on every ballot except one (getting a 3rd place vote on that one). When you remember that the setter is the extension of the coach on the floor, you can certainly understand the care these coaches put into recruiting this position. One coach mentioned that the prevalence of the 6-2 formation in club really devalues their front row skills. When you consider a number of coaches favor the 5-1 formation because you get a consistency on a team’s sets, this would seem to be a problem that makes recruiting a 5-1 setter even harder.
The six-rotation outside hitter finished a close third followed right behind by libero. I purposely only gave the option of a 6-rotation outside to make the selections tougher. As much as I love middles and setters, there is just something wonderful about a six-rotation outside that excels in all facets of the game. Remember that the question given to the coaches was what is the toughest position to recruit but I think I get a much different answer if the question was what is the most valuable position on the floor.
Libero was the only other position to receive votes as both DS and right side were shutout. Both outside and libero received a first place vote but it wasn’t enough in either case to pass the setter position. In the case of the outside, the reasoning behind their first place vote was that with the use of substitutions, many of the outsides are not as solid on the back row as years past. In the case of the libero, the reasoning was more about how difficult it is to see what you want to see out of the position. You can go watch a match and the libero may not get served very much. Or maybe gets served but the serves aren’t at a level you would see at division 3. You can certainly see if they talk and how they move but they may not get many balls hit their way. With hitters, you have a good feel for their potential just from warm-ups. In the end, this specific coach said that quality liberos take the most time to recruit.
I purposely separated out the DS position from the question so it’s probably no surprise they didn’t receive any votes. I certainly can rationalize this, but I’m sure all of these coaches would also love to be able to sub in a DS that is a defensive and service receive goddess. The position certainly has value, but there are just a lot of potential recruits that can play the position.
In the case of the right side, however, this is a little surprising. Do you know what positions are most represented in our All West Region teams over the past two years? Setters and right sides. (Liberos are the least represented…not counting the DS position.) So our most valuable position per the All-Region voters is the easiest to find in the West Region? Kind of curious but you have to imagine that every hard hitting right handed middle that struggled with their footwork gets moved over to right side. (I really struggled with the tone of that last statement but there is nothing wrong with putting players in a position that highlights their strength if that strength gets muted by other factors playing a different position.) You also have these tall lefties that can pound the ball that need to play somewhere. (Which reminds me that in my younger days, we actually played in a league where we switched the floor because we had 3 good lefties. Two played middle and one played right side, which was now outside. I actually set from the left side. The passing mindset was the hardest aspect of the change…well…that and the fact I always thought I was a better setter than I was.)
To finish this off…a quick thank you to the coaches that responded to my email request for this story. See, it was fun and painless!