When Robinson setter Tiffany Connatser receives a pass, the senior faces several options. She can look to two-time Northern Region MVP Susie Murach, a safe bet to pound a thunderous kill into the gym floor. Connatser can set Chance Rye, a powerful hitter in her own right, for a wrap-around attack. Or maybe Connatser feels like jump setting up-and-coming sophomore Anna Kulbaski.
Of course, variables do play a role in Connatser’s decision. Does one of her hitters have a favorable matchup against an opposing blocker? Is one of her hitters riding a hot streak? Is a teammate calling for the ball? Many factors surround a choice that needs to be made quickly and executed precisely, a process Connatser makes look fairly simple.
"She’s one of the most athletic girls," Robinson head coach Jill Pearson said, "that we’ve ever had on the team."
The Rams on Tuesday, Nov. 9, advanced to the regional semifinals with a 3-0 (25-14, 25-18, 25-17) victory over Yorktown during a quarterfinal match at Robinson. Connatser dished out 41 assists and kept the Rams running like a well-oiled machine. The second-team all-region selection has been with the varsity since the end of her freshman season and took over as the team’s starting setter her junior year. Connatser, who will play volleyball at Temple University next season, said she feels more comfortable on the floor as a senior and relies on her athletic ability to make plays.
"I have more experience (and) I’m more confident," she said. "I know I can put the ball wherever I want on the court from whatever spot on the court."
Pearson, twice named region Coach of the Year, said Connatser spreads the ball around well, but if the Rams need a point, the ball is going to Murach.
Connatser "does a really nice job of distributing, but she also puts the same ball up no matter what pass we give her," Pearson said. "No matter what the situation is, it’s the same ball. To Susie, to the middle, to the right side; she does a really nice job of mixing up her attacks."
Against Yorktown, Murach led Robinson with 15 kills. Rye finished with nine kills and Brenna Dolan and Kulbaski each had six.
Both Connatser and Murach say they are friends and work well together on the floor. Connatser says she feels no pressure to focus on getting the ball to her decorated teammate. When it comes to calling for the ball, Murach said likes to be set again shortly after making a mistake.
"She’s a phenomenal setter," Murach said. "She always knows where to put the ball. … There are times when I’ll miss ball and I’ll be like, ‘Give it to me again, give it to me again,’ and she’ll give it to me."
Robinson will face Stone Bridge in the semifinals on Nov. 11 at Centreville High School. The match will start 20 minutes after the other semifinal match between Hayfield and Langley. Stone Bridge is considered by many to be the best team in the region and the Bulldogs swept the Rams during a Sept. 13 meeting. Connatser will look to keep the Robinson attack running smoothly as the Rams try for an upset.
"In Tiffany’s case, it’s a lot of natural ability," Pearson said when asked if becoming a strong setter is based on natural ability or being coached. "She plays very high-level club in the off season, but a lot of that is just feel and athleticism. I’m definitely not taking very much credit for what she’s able to do."