Bri Barker-Groth immediately lost the popularity contest with her new setter when the 2016 season began.
Colleyville Heritage’s volleyball coach looked at her then-sophomore defensive specialist and envisioned Grace Koper could run an offense.
These are definitely not the reasons why:
▪ Koper had no experience as a setter.
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▪ She’d never played anything other than defensive specialist.
▪ There was no history of her working with hitters.
“At first, I was in shock,” Koper said. “This was so out of left field. When she told me that she saw me as a setter, my jaw hit floor. This was the hardest thing. I thought, “You have 20-plus people who could do this and you’re choosing me?”
You play this position with movement, vision and a little faith.
Grace Koper on playing setter
When a coach sees something in a player, the player is sometimes the last one to see it. Fast forward to 2017 and both coach and player are flourishing. Koper, now a junior, directed the program to another district championship (33-7, 12-0 8-5A) and it’s building toward what is hoped to be a deep playoff run.
The first two qualities Barker-Groth looks for in a setter are leadership and decisiveness. It has to start with personality. The skill set can be harnessed over time. Koper had always been viewed as a great passer.
“I had some bad looking sets to start,” Koper said. “But I promised my hitters I would give them the best ball possible every time. Whatever I do, I’m going do 100 percent.”
Koper has grown up in a house with four brothers. Naturally, she acquired a take-charge personality. As the regular season winds down, Koper has been a presence on the court with 1,197 assists and 274 digs.
“Her attitude is that she’s not going to let balls drop or give up on any ball or any teammate,” Barker-Groth said. “Setters are leaders. They have the go get’em personality and takes everyone with her. She can control the emotions and has the mental part down.”
Barker-Groth nurtured Koper through 2016. Colleyville Heritage stayed in a 6-2 as Koper and Lauren Evans split time.
The following January, Barker-Groth turned everything over to Koper and transitioned to the 5-1. Koper would be on the court at all times. The program also wanted to keep Evans as just a hitter so she could focus on her offense.
Barker-Groth subscribes to the 5-1. She wants the same person touching the ball. She wants consistency. She demands reliability.
Initial hesitancy greeted the change. However, Koper took the responsibility and ran with it. Although she doesn’t play club volleyball — she plays beach — Koper spent just about every offseason day working on passing and setting mechanics and moving on the floor. Gym walls served as hitting partners.
Chemistry between Koper and her hitters is continuous. The upcoming playoff run will require belief, execution and some breaks. The Class 5A state tournament is Nov. 15-18 at Garland’s Culwell Center. Barker-Groth likes their chances with an established floor leader.
“You have nanosecond to make a decision,” Koper said. “Then there’s the peripheral vision of who is moving forwards and backwards. You play this position with movement, vision and a little faith. We have the talent to go far. Now, it’s a matter of belief that we can do it.”