High school setters trending taller

By Walter Villa

Lydia Dimke -- and other players like her -- may be the future of girls’ volleyball.

Traditionally, tall girls such as the 6-foot-2 Dimke would be made into middle blockers as early as middle school.

But Dimke, a sophomore at Blaine (Minn.), has a different dream.

“I want to be a setter in college,” Dimke said.

And the dream is very realistic because of the evolution of the sport. Tall players with good hands are now being trained as setters from an early age. What they may lack in quickness compared to a smaller player, they make up for in longer strides and the ability to cover more territory.

At the moment, Dimke is a part-time setter. She spends three front-row rotations as a hitter and three back-row rotations setting.

“I enjoy doing both -- it’s a great opportunity,” Dimke said. “I wouldn’t mind doing both in college. But if I had my preference, I’d like to be a setter.”

Walt Weaver, who coached Dimke to a national title with the Northern Lights 15s club team last season, said major colleges are lining up to earn her commitment.

Dimke, who wants to study medicine, said it’s too early for her to settle on a college. For now, her focus is on repeating as a national champion, this time with the Northern Lights 16s team.

A growing trend

Of the four full-time setters who made first-, second- and third-team All-America last season in NCAA Division I, none is taller than 6-0.

The list includes 5-11 Kendall Bateman of Southern Cal and 6-0 Alison Landwehr of Iowa State on the first team, 5-8 Bre Payton of Northern Iowa (second team) and 5-9 Brianne Barker of Oklahoma (third team). There is also 6-2 Kelly Murphy of Florida, who made the first team as a setter/hitter.

Compare those heights to the setters and setters/hitters who made the 2011 ESPNHS All-America first team, and you can see that size is trending up. The ESPNHS team featured 6-2 Andie Malloy of Lovejoy (Lucas, Texas), 6-2 Megan Courtney of Archbishop Alter (Kettering, Ohio), 6-1 Katy Beals of Lake Travis (Austin, Texas), 6-1 Madison Bugg of Cardinal Gibbons (Raleigh, N.C.) and 5-10 Katie George of Assumption (Louisville, Ky.).

If you are counting, the top five college setters or setters/hitters are a combined 10 inches shorter than their five prep counterparts.

Logan Barber, who coached Bugg in high school, is convinced his former star will be a setter at Stanford. It’s the position where she can reach her full potential, Barber said.

Barber also said he thought the trend of taller setters began a few years ago.

“It started in college and has trickled down to high school and club,” he said. “Teams want to have more consistency on offense by using just one setter instead of having to change setters when she rotates to the front row.

“If you have a taller setter, she can stay in and be an effective blocker on the front row.”

Barber said 6-0 is the “benchmark” top college programs are looking for in terms of height for a setter.

“But if you are 5-10 or 5-11 and can jump, they won’t have a problem,” he said. “Colleges have to be wary about taking a tall player and trying to convert her to a setter. That’s hard to make happen late in the game.

“The primary thing is that she’s a good setter. If she’s an accomplished setter and happens to be taller, that gives her a bonus. Her phone will be ringing quickly (from college recruiters) in that case.”

The ideal setter

Cookie Stevens, an assistant coach who helped the Southern Cal Trojans make the 2011 Final Four; said the ideal setter is 6-0 or taller and left-handed. She also has to be quick, especially if you don’t have a precise passing team and she has to chase passes frequently.

“The advantage of having a tall setter and preferably left-handed is that they can hit the second ball over, and the blockers have to see if she is going to hit or if she is going to set,” Stevens said. “The blockers have to decide if they go up with her or with the hitter.”

Ryan Mitchell, who coached Malloy at Lovejoy, said coaches are getting smarter in how they are selecting players.

“It used to be that your smaller, athletic kid was your setter,” he said. “But now we’re taking big kids with athletic ability and training them to set.

“It’s just the evolution of the game when outside hitters in college are touching 10-4 or 10-6. If you have a 5-9 setter, you are going to lose that battle. So you have two options: Run a 6-2 with a setter in the back or get bigger setters.”