WARMINSTER >> Defense in volleyball is an exhibition in controlled chaos.
The game moves fast, teams can attack from a multitude of angles and defensive players are left with little time to react once the ball goes over the net. Then, getting the dig is tough enough but the real trick is turning it into a good enough pass the next guy up can do something with it.
It’s tough, but La Salle did a pretty good job of it Thursday night as the Explorers picked up a key 3-0 (25-17, 25-22, 25-19) at Archbishop Wood.
“I was really happy with our defense, they were really scrappy today,” La Salle coach Jason Eisele said. “They were very assertive, very aggressive and they’re starting to learn how to anticipate. Wood is a good team, they have some players that stay up there and keep their hands up so you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The Vikings and Explorers were the last two unbeaten teams in the PCL entering the match Thursday. Both squads have a solid mix of veterans and newcomers and while Thursday’s match didn’t decide anything in the big picture, it was an important victory for La Salle.
With the PCL tournament being held at higher seeds, the Explorers wanted to make sure they had a leg up for home court should they see Wood again in about a month when the postseason gets underway. Still, with Wood having four quality hitters, it was going to take a strong defensive showing to do it.
“We were able to get a good pass and be more on the offensive than continue on the defensive,” La Salle setter Chris Metzler said. “Trying to fend them off is hard work and if we’re making good passes defensively, we’re able to score points more actively than play passively. With good passes, we were able to set up a better play.”
La Salle’s defense starts with its block anchored by 6-foot-2 senior William Glah and when the big guys up front are able to get their hands up, it limits the places opposing hitters can go with the ball. It falls to the back row to do the rest, including making the kind of digs that can be used to run offense.
The Explorers have a terrific libero in senior Kyle Natter and on Thursday, he got a lot of help from a rotating cast of back row players. Eisele said his team is deep enough that some positions are still in competition and daily practices are intense with playing time on the line.
Thomas Steinberg, Nicolas Hammel, Bernard Lindinger and Matt McMahon all saw time playing back row on Thursday.
“We came into the season knowing we’d have some good offensive players but also that our defense had been an area of improvement over the past couple seasons, it’s been an area of emphasis for us,” Eisele said. “I was able to get a lot of guys in, they’re battling for those positions so it’s good to see these guys battle. Some of the best competition we face is in practice.”
La Salle’s defensive effort prevented the Vikings from generating sustained runs of offense. Minus a strong spurt in the third set, Wood was limited to one or two points at a time which made it tough to catch up when La Salle started to pull away.
Wood coach Maureen Thorpe felt her team did a good job when it was able to find hitting space around La Salle’s block.
“We have a couple of new blockers and we have to learn to transition and get them used to positioning with more hands-on experience,” Thorpe said. “More matches will help a lot. We knew this was going to be the match of the season, I love this team. We have six seniors, they’re wonderful kids and very competitive.”
Almost all of the Wood players don’t play club volleyball, so they don’t run into defenses like La Salle’s often. Thorpe added one area the Vikings could learn from on Thursday was communication on the court on both offense and defense.
Wood setter Patrick McCaffrey did a nice job of spreading the ball around and hitters Jake Hober, Brian Piekarski and Luke Moffett can all get the ball down for kills. The Vikings’ defense wasn’t able to turn its digs into the same kind of passes that La Salle did, and that’s something they’ll get better at with more reps in games and practices.
When Wood gets its passing down, the hitters are usually able to turn it into points.
“The competitive nature that comes out when match time comes around is what we draw from,” Thorpe said. “We need to make sure they get the experience they need.”
It’s been a solid start to the season for La Salle and the Explorers feel like they’re still making positive strides even with a lot of matches and practices left on the schedule.
“We’ve gotten better,” Metzler said. “With each game we seem to be improving on what we already do well. It’s a game situation in practice every day so when we get to a game like this, it’s like another day for us.”
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