Successful Switch

Successful Switch

Woodson’s Reed thriving at outside hitter following change in approach.

Five-foot-6 Woodson senior Mackenzie Reed made the transition from libero to outside hitter as a junior.

Five-foot-6 Woodson senior Mackenzie Reed made the transition from libero to outside hitter as a junior. Photo by Craig Sterbutzel.

The Woodson volleyball team was in control of Monday’s match against Oakton when Cavalier head coach Len Palaschak took out some of his starters, including senior outside hitter Mackenzie Reed, in order to give playing time to some of his reserves.

Oakton, which trailed 21-9 at one point during the fourth set, started to creep back into the contest. When the Cougars cut the deficit to 22-16, Palaschak called timeout and put Reed, a team captain, back on the floor. Reed promptly put away a cross-court kill to stop the bleeding.

Reed’s hitting talents produced a team-high 12 kills, a .407 attack percentage and helped the Cavaliers to a 3-1 (25-18, 17-25, 25-11, 25-20) victory on Oct. 13 at Oakton High School. Reed also had four aces on a night when Woodson totaled 18.

Reed’s aggression at the net helped the Cavaliers bounce back from a rough stretch that included three losses in four matches. Reed, however, hasn’t always possessed an offensive mentality. Following a position switch as a junior, she maintained a defensive approach when Woodson needed her to attack. As time passed, Reed became an aggressor and the Cavaliers have benefitted since.

Reed was Woodson’s libero during her freshman and sophomore seasons, twice earning second-team all-district honors. When Reed was a junior, Palaschak asked her to move from her defensive position to outside hitter. Reed wasn’t happy about the idea, but the Cavaliers needed some help with their attack.

“We had a problem a couple years ago with outside hitters not being able to hit balls on the court and [not] placing the ball well,” Palaschak said. “… [Reed and I] had a long talk about it because as a freshman and a sophomore, she was second-team all-district as a libero. She would have been [a] first-team [libero], probably, last year, [but] she did this for the team.”

Along with a lack of experience playing outside hitter, Reed had to overcome her lack of size. At 5 feet 6, Reed is short for a net player. However, Reed said her focus on conditioning and experience playing beach volleyball boosts her endurance and increases her jumping ability.

“Without [beach volleyball],” Reed said, “I don’t think I could have made the transition at all.”

While Reed had the physical ability to succeed at outside hitter, she lacked the aggression needed to reach her potential. She still had a defensive mentality while playing an offensive position.

“I was more of a defensive player in the front row,” Reed said. “I didn’t really want to transition to hit. I wanted to take every ball.”

While beach volleyball helped Reed with certain elements of playing outside hitter, it hindered, in a way, her approach to attacking. The kind of well-placed finesse shots that succeed in 2-on-2 beach volleyball don’t work as often in a game of 6-on-6 inside a gymnasium.

“Every year, we have a little transition she has to make from playing beach to coming back to the court,” Palaschak said. “On the beach, you’re used to placing balls a lot and you can see that sometimes when she’ll do her approach. She’ll do her last two steps and try to place balls and it’s hard to do with six players on the court. We have to get her to do that transition and rip the ball, which she was doing very nicely [against Oakton on Monday].”

Reed would eventually figure out her new position, earning first-team all-conference honors as an outside hitter during her junior season in 2013.

“Last year, we had teams setting up their defense just to play her,” Palaschak said. “They’d come out and watch her play and they’d set up their defense against her.”

Now a senior, Reed continues to improve.

“[I’m] more comfortable, definitely,” she said. “I’ve embraced the position this year. I like it because it’s more exciting getting kills.”

Senior libero and North Carolina A&T State commit Keniah Rivera, also a team captain, said she notices a change in Reed.

“She’s a great player,” Rivera said. “She’s very smart. She knows where to put the ball. … There’s a huge difference [from last season]. She hits harder, she’s more confident in herself. Last year, as the transition went she was kind of nervous, she didn’t want to make a mistake.”

Reed’s 12-kill performance against Oakton on Monday helped Woodson improve its overall record to 9-6. Woodson’s Jen Sabolsky finished with nine kills against the Cougars. Mary Ellen Gill had eight and Lenna Roman finished with seven. Leah Farmer dished 17 assists and Sophia Mackin finished with 11.

Reed, Angelica Jennings and Sarah Mueller each had four aces. Sabolsky and Mackin each had three.

“We needed this,” Palaschak said. “We just have not found a chemistry on the floor yet. It was nice to watch that tonight. We know that this is the lineup we need to use, but they just need to get that chemistry going. … We just need to find that groove on the floor. This is the first time we’ve really had some excitement playing like this.”

The Cavaliers will face Lake Braddock at 7:30 p.m. tonight. Woodson will travel to face West Potomac at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 20, and Robinson on Tuesday.

Woodson has its sights set on competing for a Conference 7 championship. When the Cavaliers need a kill along the way, they will likely look to their converted libero.

“She was getting good, long, four-step approaches here [against Oakton] and getting a lot of power behind the ball,” Palaschak said. “She was crushing balls.”