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Split position for Tiger volleyball

8/21/2014

By AUSTIN COLBERT

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

Having too much of a good thing doesn't exist for Fort Hays State University volleyball coach Kurt Kohler. Even with his top two returning players -- senior Taylor Mares and junior Mallory Flagor --  both playing the same position, he is determined to find a way to best utilize his right-side hitters as much as possible.

"I think it's going to be good to have that constant offense on the right side," said Kohler, who is entering his sixth season as the Tigers' head coach. "With Taylor as good as she is off of one foot, I think she is going to end up being very successful this year. Mallory is just a strong, great athlete. With her left hand, she is going to really be able to mix that offense up along the net on that right side."

Mares and Flagor were both All-MIAA honorable mention selections last season, it being a rare occurrence for one team to have two players earn all-conference honors playing the same position. Mares, out of Fort Collins, Colo., also was an honorable mention selection as a sophomore.

The Tigers are coming off a disappointing 14-19 season in which they went 3-13 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Last year's record came after FHSU returned most of its key players from a 23-14 team in 2012, its best season since a 31-5 record in 2004, prior to joining the MIAA.

In order to generate more offense and take advantage of their rare depth on the right side, Kohler plans to have the Tigers play more 6-2 sets this season, a formation that utilizes two setters and generally requires all six players to factor in offensively.

"We try to focus on trying to have a quick offense," Mares said. "We aren't the tallest people in the MIAA right now. So we really try to focus on quick sets to the pins. We do a lot of cross plays --  crossing each other and hitting out of the middle, hitting out of the outsides sometimes. Just trying to mix it up. Trying to keep our defenders guessing on where we are going to hit the ball."

There are virtually no instances where the two will be on the court at the same time. Instead, Kohler plans to use a three-player rotation on the right side. The third player alongside Mares and Flagor in the rotation is still undecided, although sophomore Rachel Szczepanski looks to have the best chance of earning the spot.

Another element that is likely to make Mares and Flagor a difficult combination to defend is their approach to the net. Since Mares is right handed and Flagor left handed, the opposing teams will have to adjust to each as they enter the court.

"We both kind of bring a different version of the right side with her being a right-handed hitter," said Flagor, a Hoisington native. "She has a side approach more so as I come straight in. It's kind of a change for the other teams to have to get used to it because they see two different types of right-side attacks coming at them. I think that really helps, too."

Mares started 22 of the 30 matches she played in last season and led the team with 290 kills.

Flagor only started six of 29 matches she played in, but was still second on the team with 243 kills. Despite the difference in starts, the two still were relatively equal on sets played, with Mares seeing 106 sets and Flagor 98 sets.

Kohler intends to use them just as equally this season, barring any in-game situations that could hinder his ability to sub players.

"Occasionally we get stuck in certain rotations with one of our setters on the floor a whole lot longer than the other one. If that's the case, either Taylor or Mallory would be playing a lot more," Kohler said. "That's usually not a good sign when you get stuck in rotations. That means you are struggling. With those two, with their offensive firepower, I don't think we are going to get stuck real often in the same rotation."

The Tigers, picked to finish 10th in the MIAA this season, don't have much time remaining to fine tune their offense before their Sept. 5 season opener against McMurry University at the Henderson State Tournament in Arkadelphia, Ark. However, the Tigers will scrimmage with Bethel College next Wednesday at home, and will get their first chance to show off to a crowd tonight when they host their annual Black and Gold Scrimmage at 7 p.m. in Gross Memorial Coliseum.

Tonight's scrimmage will feature four sets, the first two with pre-determined rosters and the last two will have the players mixed.

Kohler said a fifth set is possible should time allow. He plans to have the scrimmage completed by 8:30 p.m.

"We all really want to put on a show and play to our best ability so we can have a bunch of people come out and be like, 'Hey, this is going to be a good group of girls this year,' so we will get a bigger crowd," Flagor said of tonight's scrimmage. "It's kind of like a firecracker for us at the beginning of the year. We are just ready to set off a good season on a good note so we want to have the best scrimmage we can."