Top of the 2024 Watchlist Class: Middles Moving Up
The watchlist players are vital to the rankings so I want to make sure that I am giving some of them the spotlight they deserve. Today I want to focus on the middle hitter position because it’s the one spot…
The watchlist players are vital to the rankings so I want to make sure that I am giving some of them the spotlight they deserve. Today I want to focus on the middle hitter position because it’s the one spot on the court that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. The 4 names I am going to highlight today exhibit how different the profile of a middle can be while still being effective. Each of these prospects bring something to the table that at least catches your eye, but most likely gives their team avenues to be successful. Whether that be hitting, blocking, or even the confidence and vibe they exude on the court; they excel in at least one of the aspects to propel their team to the next level.
Madison Sofarelli (FEVA)
Madison is the mentally tough and energy driven athlete that coaches want in their program. Anytime I have had the opportunities to coach against her, she’s always a focal point in my breakdown of her team. She brings a different demeanor to games and it shows how competitive she is. When looking at her game, there’s a few things that stick out to you at the very beginning. The first thing I notice coaching against her and watching her play from a far is the usage rate she’s asked to do both on their offense and especially on blocking in defense. Madison is more than willing to block pin to pin and still have the energy and discipline to transition into their offense and be an option for her setter. Technically speaking, she does a great job with spacing and timing on faster paced sets. Her footwork and explosiveness on her last two steps allow for her to be in position to hit the ball but also have the awareness of the other side of the court to be able to hit the open spots as well. She utilizes all of the hitting tools in her toolbox including hard swings, tips, and pushes with range. Overall Madison is an athletic middle hitter who brings all that a coach could ever want and ask for to the table.
Savannah Schwarz (Team Kiwi)
I have had the pleasure to be able to coach Savannah, and she’s the type of player that has the skill and the discipline to excel at any position or in any situation you put in front of her. While most experienced and excels the most in the middle, Savannah has proved over her volleyball career that you can trust her playing at the pin as well. When looking at her as a middle, she brings the power aspect to the table. She does a great job using her body to give the ball more power. The ability for her to make quick decisions on where to swing helps her gauge how to use her body to use the range she has on offense. She can push and tip just as well as the rest of them, but her bread and butter play has to be when she decides to swing aggressively. On the defensive side of the net, she does a great job closing the block with her feet, allowing her eyes and hands to work together to find the ball. Although Savannah still has some technical things to fix with her technique, she’s a great all around volleyball player and even a better person. It was always a fun and productive time being her coach.
Lainie Stapleton (JAX Skyline)
Lainie is a presence at the net both on offense and on defense. Her size alone creates an issue for opposing teams to account for her, let alone the skill she offers including the size. She is one of the rare athletes who have the size and length but also have the athleticism to take advantage of the skills she’s learned throughout her time playing volleyball. The best part of her game outside of her sheer size would have to be her swing. She has a quick arm swing while keeping her contact point high. When she runs faster sets she does a great job getting her hand on the ball directing it to a spot. She uses her awareness and IQ on offense to see the block in front of her and either use the block or drive her body and arm outside of the block. Defensively, her blocking is an intimidating factor for opposing offenses. Lainie works hard to get her feet there to close the block and has the length to close any extra space in the seam or to reach over the net to grab the ball. She’s a big middle with a lot of skill, a rare sighting to say the least.
Loukia Papadakos (Tribe)
Loukia brings a lot to the table at the middle position. She has the versatility like Savannah to hit on both sides of the court, but she also has length and height similar to Lainie. She is a little lanky, but she uses the length really well to be able to close the block and even reaching higher over the net. She has fast twitched movements which really helps with her swing to be quick on the ball and also moving her feet to close to sets and closing the block. She’s a high flyer as well, which creates bigger issues for the opposing team to be able to defend around her. When you take all of the different intangibles that she has on the court, it creates a huge problem for the opposing team but a great asset for the teams that she is a part of. The best part about her game for me is the combination of hitting quick with good decision making with the athleticism she uses on a hit to hit basis. She is not just an overall player but is a dynamic player with a lot to give teams at the next level.
These four middle prospects are four different styles of middle that can succeed not only at the club level but the collegiate level as well. Each of these prospects show a level of athleticism and understanding of the position that they take advantage of the situations they are put into. It’s always a delight to see the players who get the least recognition be able to show others how important they are to the sport but especially important to their team. Middle hitters are unappreciated and need to be talked and hyped about more.