Middle of the action
Todd brings consistency to Mavericks' middle attack
You don’t see a lot of middle blockers who are shorter than their setters on a college volleyball team.
And although some teams might overlook Colorado Mesa’s 5-foot-9 middle, Natalee Todd, at first, the Mavs’ 5-10 setter, Sam Ritter, certainly doesn’t.
“This weekend, Natalee, every time we stepped on the court, she was, ‘Let’s go, guys.’ I could just feel the energy and we were all super-pumped,” Ritter said of Todd, who responded with 14 kills Friday against CSU-Pueblo, then upped that to a career-high 16 against New Mexico Highlands.
“When they demand the ball, it makes it so much easier for me.”
Strangely enough, Todd said she didn’t go into Saturday’s match thinking she’d have a career night.
“I was not feeling it before New Mexico,” she said before practice Tuesday. “I was a little nervous, but after you get there and start going, you feel better. It’s all about tempo and being there. If my tempo is there, it gets better even if I was doing bad before.”
With Todd was demanding the ball on the middle attack, the Mavericks won a pair of road matches despite playing what CMU coach Dave Fleming called “ugly volleyball.” And he’s OK with that.
“I love winning, and doing it on the road is even better,” Fleming said. “It’s something that really good teams do, is win ugly. They find a way to win when they’re not playing their best and we’ve proven we can do that. We’ve just got to get back to where we’re executing more consistently.”
Todd had been consistent in the middle the past couple of weeks, since CMU lost Hattie Gianinetti to an injury. Fleming is hoping his senior middle will be back soon, but because the Mavs have so much depth at that position, with Alyssa Chutka and Camille Smith sliding into the rotation with Todd, they’ve stayed the course.
“I think all of our middles are good players,” Todd said. “It’s hard. We’re all fighting for one position. Everyone had a chance and there’s not a time when I think, ‘Oh, I’m fine.’ I always have Alyssa behind me pushing me and Camille and Emily (LaCroix-Dalluhn, a redshirt freshman). I think they’ve all stepped up being big since Hattie’s been out. It’s hard to have Hattie out.”
Teams tend to double the block against junior outside hitter MacKenzie Edwards, the RMAC leader in kills (250) and kills per set (4.1).
That leaves more one-on-one opportunities for the middles and Megan Gianinetti on the right side.
“She’s a stud. You can’t not (double block against Edwards),” Todd said. “They don’t worry about as many of us and you have your opportunity.”
The Mavericks (12-4, 6-2 RMAC) face a crucial road trip again this weekend, playing at Colorado Christian (10-7, 7-1) on Friday night and at No. 22 Colorado School of Mines (14-3, 8-0) on Saturday. CMU is fifth in the conference standings, with the top four receiving a home match in the first round of the conference playoffs.
Consistency is the key for the Mavericks, who have had slow starts the past couple of weeks, but then catch fire. Fleming wants the hitters to continue to be aggressive, believing swinging away will cut down on errors.
“We have to prepare for perfect,” he said. “If we’re going in to crush the ball and then we have to make an adjustment (to tip or hit around the block), that’s going to cut down on our errors. But if we’re going in at 60 percent because I don’t want to make an error, then it leads to errors.”
With the Mavs’ balance across the front line, points can come from anywhere.
“What I’m really waiting for, and Sam is too, is we’re hoping they all catch fire at the same time. That’s when teams are going to have trouble with us,” Fleming said.
The longer the rally goes, the more of a factor Todd becomes, when she can demand the ball in tempo and put it away.
“It’s nice, you’re going fast the whole time and you don’t have time to think about it,” Todd said. “Just being there, yelling ‘One! Coming in hot!’ ”