The art of blocking in volleyball is much more than raising arms and jumping.
The majority of the work happens before the opponent’s first touch.
Just as a quarterback in football scans the defense before the ball is snapped to make sure his team is positioned to be successful, a skilled blocker in volleyball anticipates her move as the opponent begins to set up its play.
For me, a loud, rowdy crowd really takes away anxiety a little bit because when everything is super loud, you can’t really hear your own thoughts.
TCU junior outside hitter Ashley Smith talking about the five sellouts the Frogs have had at home this season
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It’s that adjustment in the mental game of blocking that has made the TCU volleyball team the best in rejections in the conference and one of the top blocking teams in the country.
“It’s not thinking about where the ball could be potentially going, it’s reading where it is going and being there before it is there,” junior outside hitter Ashley Smith said.
TCU ranks first in the Big 12 in blocks, averaging 2.98 per set, almost a half-block ahead of second-place Texas at 2.53.
That mark also puts the Horned Frogs eighth in blocked shots per set in the nation, a category led by Hawaii at 3.50.
Juniors Regan McGuire and Natalie Gower lead the team in blocked shots per set, averaging 1.61 and 1.22, respectively. McGuire’s mark places her best in the Big 12 and sixth in the nation.
TCU hosts No. 6 nationally ranked Texas at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in a matchup of the Big 12’s top two teams in blocks.
“A huge block definitely is a momentum swing, but also, if you put up a good block, it gets in the hitters’ heads,” Gower said. “They’re thinking they have to hit around it or they have to tool it or they have to tip. They have to change something in their swing and it makes them more uncomfortable, which benefits our side even more.”
The preparation for that split second of defensive masterwork begins days before a match under new TCU head coach Jill Kramer and her staff.
TCU assistant coaches break down game film of upcoming opponents for players to key in on different movements that will help them know where the ball will be when it’s played over the net.
It’s a higher level of in-game mental function that TCU has focused on developing since Kramer’s arrival this off-season.
2.98 Blocks per set for TCU, best in the Big 12.
“What our girls have learned to do is watch plays develop and learned how to read what’s going on on the other side of the net,” Kramer said. “That’s a skill. That’s hard to learn. That’s hard to make yourself do when you’re not used to doing it. When we got here, none of them were looking at the right things. We do it every day in practice.”
Twelve times this season TCU has posted double-digit blocks in a match, including 15.5 in the Horned Frogs’ 3-2, come-from-behind win over Baylor on Wednesday.
While national notoriety on stat lists is certainly an accomplishment, TCU’s success in blocking has translated into success on the court, manifested in its 15-5 record and 5-3 Big 12 mark at the halfway point in conference play, good enough for fourth in the Big 12 standings.
With one more conference win, TCU would match its season high since joining the Big 12.
The new high will likely be reached and passed at home, as TCU has taken advantage of a strong showing by the home faithful, posting a 6-1 record at University Recreation Center.
TCU has sold out five home matches this season, including all four Big 12 contests.
“For me, a loud, rowdy crowd really takes away anxiety a little bit because when everything is super loud, you can’t really hear your own thoughts,” Smith said. “You’re just playing volleyball and there’s nothing you’re focusing on other than that.”