Ready, set, go
Ritter takes lessons learned from last season into role as Colorado Mesa's setter
Sam Ritter stood at the far end of the bench for all but 29 of Colorado Mesa’s 107 sets last volleyball season.
A freshman, she watched and learned what it takes to be a college setter, working on what she learned in practice every day. The speed of the game, how each of the Maverick hitters attack, right down to how to handle playing in front of large, rowdy student sections that whoop and holler throughout home matches at Brownson Arena.
“I think I really learned the college pace and how the whole school comes out and sees games,” she said. “I saw what a big deal it was in the community and how much support there was. The spring season really helped, that’s when I started working with the hitters. The spring was vital to get us prepared and working together.”
She grabbed the chance to be the Mavericks’ starting setter and this fall, Ritter proved she’s ready to run the show.
“There are definitely nerves, but over the summer I was so excited to come back and start playing and leading the team,” she said. “I’m excited it’s only my sophomore year so I can do it for awhile, too. I think we’ll all keep improving every step of the way.”
Ritter is the third starting setter in the past three seasons for CMU, which plays No. 14 Regis University at 7 tonight at Brownson, with Chadron State coming to town at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The veteran hitters, including senior middle hitter Hattie Gianinetti, quickly connected with their new table-setter.
“I say if you’re a good enough hitter you can hit off anyone,” Gianinetti said last week after the Mavericks won their conference opener against Western State, “and Sam’s doing great.”
In 10 matches (37 sets), Ritter has 400 assists, 10.81 per set. Four hitters have 70 or more kills so far, with MacKenzie Edwards recording 139, giving Ritter a wide array of choices for the Mavericks’ attack.
“Our biggest strength, I would say, is how I can move the ball around,” she said. “We start with the middles, obviously, to establish them, but as soon as the other side holds with them, I can set the pins and all three are great choices.”
She’s adapted to running the faster pace to the pin hitters, and like all setters, loves to see her middles put the ball away.
“All of them can come in and kill it,” she said. “I think when the middle gets the kill it’s the most amazing because the block is right there. In order to trick the block and get a great kill, it’s definitely the best.”
CMU coach Dave Fleming calls Ritter, a 5-foot-10 sophomore from Tinley Park, Illinois, one of the most athletic setters the Mavericks have had in his tenure. Her height and athleticism makes her another option on the front row.
She has 31 kills, two solo blocks and 13 block assists. When she’s in the back row, Ritter has served five aces, has a .943 serve percentage, and is third on the team with 94 digs, behind libero Taylor Woods’ 185 and Edwards’ 105.
That she’s taken so quickly to running CMU’s system shouldn’t really be a surprise — Ritter was pretty much born to set.
“My mom was a setter,” she said with a smile.
Even though her family is too far away to attend most matches, her mother, her club coach in seventh and eighth grade, is still coaching as she watches online.
“I just talked to her (Monday). They’ve planned out the viewing party for Friday,” Ritter said.
Tinley Park, a suburb just south of Chicago, isn’t part of Fleming’s usual recruiting area. Ritter’s athleticism caught his eye on a recruiting video that she sent to several successful Division II programs. Being in Colorado got Ritter’s attention when Fleming contacted her.
“I come to Breckenridge a lot with my family and while we were in Breck my mom and I decided to come visit the school and see how it was,” she said. “I really liked it. I came to (Fleming’s summer) camp and … yeah.”
This winter, she can meet her family for some snowboarding once the season is over and there’s fresh powder in the mountains.
Tonight’s match pits the teams with the longest winning streaks among RMAC teams — CMU (8-2, 2-0 RMAC) has won six in a row, Regis (10-1, 2-0) five straight. The Rangers are led by 6-4 middle Nikki Kennedy, a Division I transfer from the University of Denver, and Kristen Hornung, a 6-2 middle/right-side hitter.
“Regis’ strength is their blocking, so that’ll be a great test for me, trying to split the block, and for the hitters obviously hitting around the block,” she said. “I love the competition and I think it’ll be a good game.”
With only two seniors — twins Hattie and Megan Gianinetti — the Mavs are building for the future as well as playing for today.
“Coach says he loves the possibility of us because we are young,” Ritter said. “We have so much to work on and we can get better, but I think we can definitely get there.”