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ND Volleyball: Irish hold tryout to find setter

Chris Masoud | Tuesday, September 29, 2009

One of a coach’s most useful tools, a deep bench gives a team the flexibility to substitute a fatigued player without a major drop-off in intensity or talent. Leading the Irish into Big East play without such a luxury at the setter position, coach Debbie Brown is confident her team will not be held back.

Brown recently held an open tryout in an effort to provide some support for senior setter Jamel Nicholas, who has played in nearly every minute of every set this season.

“It was very worthwhile for us to do that because we felt if we could find somebody that could come in and help run the second team, it would be a really good thing for us,” Brown said. “I think we had 13 people come out and I thought the tryout went well, but we just felt like the speed of the game and for what we needed, we didn’t end up keeping anybody.”

Nicholas, who has been nursing a painful leg injury all season, leads the Irish in sets played with 43 and total assists with 473 (11 assists per set). Nicholas has played in more than 100 matches in her Irish career, accumulating a total of 2,431 assists.

“She’s been hurt, so it’s tough,” Brown said. “She’s doing everything she possibly can in terms of being as strong and in shape and anything she can do, but she’s limited even with that. It’s a lot of just her leadership and experience and determination, but she’s certainly been vital to the team’s success.”

So for now Brown will employ a setter-by-committee solution, giving Nicholas breathers by substituting in freshman outside hitter Marie Roof and freshman libero Christina Theofilos, who has some experience at the setter position in high school.

“Both Marie Roof and Christina Theofilos can help us in that role,” Brown said. “Christina can set out of the back row and Marie out of the front row. Marie hasn’t set before, but she’s a very good blocker and she does have a good touch on the ball, so we’re working with her a little bit to do a simple-side offense.”

Nevertheless, the lion’s share of the playing time will still go to Nicholas, whose health will continue to be a concern for the Irish as they head into the season’s grind. But Irish fans have every reason to believe that Nicholas will carry the load without complaint as she has done all season.

“I’m totally fine with it,” Nicholas said. “I’ll have to be careful on my leg and just start the offense like I have been running it all year. The girls who are going to come in have been around the game, they know what they need to do, just encourage them to be confident out there.”