Nov. 9, 2016
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The Marshall volleyball team is in the midst of a 20-win season and sits in a tie for second place in Conference USA.
The Thundering Herd (20-7, 9-3 C-USA) is also enjoying an offensive breakout, a performance buoyed significantly by the team's new 6-2 offensive system. It is the first time in Mitch Jacobs' 15-year coaching career at Marshall he has deployed the two-setter offense, a decision he made because of returning setter Kayla Simmons and the addition of freshman setter Madelyn Cole.
"The talent that we had at the setter position made for it to be capable, and then the talent at all of the attacking positions," Jacobs said. "I've just never had the depth at attacking positions and the depth at setter that we have.
"Also the fact that we have a third setter (sophomore Jayden Jacobs) in the gym who can be able to run the second side while the two setters are on the other side. That makes a difference."
Simmons, a 5-9 junior from Gainesville, Florida, finished with 1,112 assists -- 9.34 per set -- as the Herd's primary setter last season. In 2016, Simmons has 505 assists -- second to Cole's 654 -- and is averaging 5.87 assists per set. Simmons is seen as unselfish by her teammates.
"She realizes that having a two-setter offense is beneficial for us," said Ally Kiekover, a senior with 213 kills. "It allows us to have a taller front line and a more offensive team. We have three hitters on the front row at all times, and she allowed herself to go into that role because it's best for the team."
Simmons and Cole share time on the court and share the rotations. While Marshall has seen an offensive uptick -- a hitting percentage of .196 last season has improved to .250 through 27 matches this year -- it subdues a setter's statistics in this system. That doesn't bother Simmons.
"It's really awesome because when I'm in the back row and (the opponents) send me the ball, I used to have to send it to the libero so the libero can set someone," Simmons said. "Now I can pass it right up to the target to her and she can dump it or she can set it."
Because the two-setter system has been an easy fit, the Herd has flourished. Marshall enters Thursday night's regular season home finale against UTEP at 6 p.m., inside the Henderson Center tied with UTSA and Southern Miss for second place in the league. Jacobs' move seems like a wise one.
"We're bigger and we're able to challenge people at the net better," he said. "The assists are nearly even, which just shows that we've done a good job of balancing the six rotations; one setter doesn't have stronger rotations."
Cole, with Simmons sidelined last week, recorded 61 assists at Charlotte and became the program's first player to win two Conference USA awards at the same time when she was named the league's Setter of the Week and Freshman of the Week. The Dallas native said the system is a natural fit for her.
"I am the second setter," Cole said. "Kayla starts the first round and I'll start front row and hit, and then when I go to the back row that's when I'll set. It's very nice to have because in the 5-1 (offensive system) you have two offensive threats and with this we have three."
Cole lauded Simmons for her insight and called her an "amazing" leader.
Simmons seemingly shrugs that off. She won't crack quadruple digits in season assists again, but an improved offense, 20-win season and climb up the standings is what she truly wanted.
"I like it a lot," Simmons said. "I like playing back row and having Madelyn there so if I dig she's there. The stats show that it's working ... it's awesome we are getting the same amount of assists because it shows we don't have a weak link."