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Volleyball: Hitting depth has Derby thinking big

Published August 28 at 10:05 a.m. | Last updated August 28 at 10:06 a.m.

Derby libero Kenzie Young has a one-track mind in the back row, to be the volleyball player the Panthers can rely on defensively.

“I feel I cover a lot of ground. If I can get (the ball) up, they’ll take care of it,” said Young, a junior.

As the libero, there is the pressure to run the defense and get the passing game going so the offense can take over. The defense’s importance never wanes, but unlike 2013, defense doesn’t have to be the primary way Derby wins games.

Now Derby volleyball has a corps of hitters, in addition to junior setter Katie Jorn in the 5-1 offense, who are giving the Panthers the freedom to set their sights high.

“Last year we really relied on our defense,” Young said. “Now we’re more spread out. It’s not one area that we need to focus on. It’s good all around.… We don’t have a weak point.”

Senior middle Kenzie Brown, junior outside Abby Elder and sophomore outside Nia Bishop give Derby a combination of power and consistency who will ably fill the hole left by the graduation of Tori Miller, who signed with Kansas.

“Defense won a lot of games for us last year,” Brown said. “This year we want to equal that out a little bit. We have more experience up front, which helps.”

The Panthers’ hitting starts in the middle with Brown.

“Kenzie is going to be our biggest threat,” Jorn said. “She’s everywhere. If I get a little off tempo, she can always fix it.”

Brown’s quickness has improved, as has her blocking. Her mind, though, could be her strength.

“She’s very organized,” Derby coach Shelby Kraus said. “She’s on top of things. She’s taking care of varsity T-shirts. She has the posters scheduled and ready to go. She’s a step ahead.

“It helps her on the court. She can think ahead a little bit and she makes smart plays. If she doesn’t get a great set, she won’t just go up and kill it. She knows what she’ll do with a ball.”

Elder is also a consistent hitter, able to keep the ball in play even when the offense breaks down.

The power for Derby is in Bishop’s arm. Bishop moved from middle to outside, allowing her more freedom to swing away.

“She can hit hard enough off the block,” Kraus said. “I don’t have to tell her to hit around the block. She can hit into the block and tool it as much as she can.

“… She gives you that nice big, hard kill, which can generate a lot of momentum for the team.”

Most coaches point directly to the passing game as the absolute beginning for their team. Rightfully so. A good pass usually leads to a good set, exponentially raising the possibility of a kill. A bad pass forces the setter to adjust, sometimes dramatically, and the kill percentage rapidly drops.

Derby has holes to fill in the back row as the season begins, but Young is a consistently strong presence.

“She’s just everywhere, she really is,” Kraus said. “… With her in the back row passing, I’m at ease with that. I don’t wonder what’s going to happen. If she takes the serve, which I want her to, then more than likely, it’s going to be a good pass.”

Whether or not Derby makes the perfect pass, Jorn can set her hitters up for a kill.

“Katie Jorn is amazing,” Brown said. “I wish I could hit off her all year round. I can always rely on her to get me the ball. If I’m running a three, a back one, a slide — whatever, it’s where I need it to be.”

As important as her skill is the leadership role that Jorn has assumed. She wants to be counted on by her teammates, and she started taking steps in that direction early.

“Tori (Miller) was so much in control on the court, such a good leader,” Kraus said. “If I can find someone who can fit that leadership role, that will be a big thing.

“Katie’s a junior, and I was impressed this summer by how much she stepped up. She was encouraging more than anything — ‘you can do this, you’ve got this pass.’ It really impressed me because she’s been so quiet and reserved.”

Reach Joanna Chadwick at 316-268-6270 or jchadwick@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachadwick.