Despite down season, Syracuse finds success with blocks

Ally Moreo | Asst. Photo Editor

Syracuse's front line has been its best asset this season. The Orange use more two-player blocking schemes than three-player blocking schemes.

With Syracuse and Louisville tied at two sets apiece and the fifth-set score at 14-10, in favor of the Orange, the Orange needed one more point to close out a win.

UofL’s Jasmine Bennett spiked the ball and could have started the Cardinals’ rally. Before the play, Mackenzie Weaver said SU head coach Leonid Yelin told her, “If you miss this block, I’m going to kill you.” Weaver, Leah Levert and Christina Oyawale sprang up and knocked the ball back to the Louisville side for an SU point.

The Orange’s blocking has been its one constant through the season so far. SU has used a mix of two- and three-player blocks to stop opponents’ attacks. Syracuse (5-15, 4-6 Atlantic Costal) has dominated opponents through the first two-thirds of the season in blocking with 315 blocking assists. Block assists are recorded when two players help on a block, and SU’s opponents total 196 block assists this season, 119 fewer than the Orange.

Blocking will be key for SU when it takes on Wake Forest and Duke this weekend.

“A lot of times you are going to base your team’s defense around the team that you have,” assistant coach Erin Little said. “We’re very physical at the net. We have tall players who can jump and physically be a big presence at the net.”

The outside blockers, or the pins, are the players who stand on the left and right sides of the net. They are in charge of watching the opponents’ outside hitters while the middle blocker’s job is to watch the setter. Syracuse uses its middle blockers’ speed because they move between the outside blockers based on the direction the ball heads. If the situation requires a block, the two jump in sync.

“It’s about our eyes,” junior middle blocker Leah Levert said. “I don’t think anyone would ever guess that’s what goes into it but it’s about focusing on what the other player is doing on the other side of the net.”

SU uses two-player blocking rather than three-player blocking schemes to prevent an opponent’s setter from setting the ball to the outside while all three move toward the middle of the net. With a quick middle blocker and two blockers that stay on the outside, SU stopped 196.5 potential kills this season — 65 percent more than its opponents. Based on where the hitter chooses for the ball to go, the middle blocker chases the ball.

SU has four main middle blockers: Levert, Santita Ebangwese, Amber Witherspoon and Christina Oyawale. They combined for 200 of the 315 block assists. Levert and Ebangwese lead the team with 76 and 55 block assists, respectively. Witherspoon tallied 39, rounding out the top three. Oyawale has 30.

“The middle’s job is to close the block,” Ebangwese said. “We have to read the setter. Where’s the setter going to set or if they set we have to close the block.”

When the middle closes a block, a wall is formed. The middle and outside blockers jump at the same time, shoulder to shoulder, with their arms fully extended above them to stop anything that might penetrate their wall.

“I think coach Yelin has a lot of experience and he knows how to teach (blocking) very well,” Little said. “That coupled with the players we recruit that have the physical capability, it’s a good combination.”


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