When the Lewis and Clark volleyball team started practice last summer, Coach Buzzy Welch had the task of mending holes left by a pair of departing seniors.
Ingrid Lindeblad, who now plays at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, and Sarah Hiss, redshirting at Western Washington University this season, were the “glue players” when the Tigers finished second at the state championships a year ago.
“When they left, it sort of threw the door wide open,” Welch said. “The question was, ‘Who was going to pick up the slack, take up the leadership?”’
Erika Robinson, a senior who moved from outside hitter to setter this year, has helped answer that question.
Welch said Robinson is a part of LC’s new generation of “glue players,” helping to hold everything together as the second-seeded Tigers head into the regional tournament this weekend at Central Valley High School.
The Tigers open with Walla Walla Friday night.
Robinson’s move to setter comes after playing the position for the first time ever last summer on the Sandpoint-based Inland Empire Volleyball Club, where most of the hitters are over 6 feet tall. At just 5-foot-7, Robinson said switching to setter was the logical choice, but she still had doubts.
“At first I didn’t like it very much, but now I love it,” she said. “It’s a lot more mental. You’re responsible for what happens.”
That’s the kind of attitude Welch was looking for at the start of the season, when he suggested to Robinson she continue at the position with the Tigers. She came into training camp, Welch said, “willing to give it a go.”
The setter is the quarterback of the team. It’s not something that can be learned quickly, Welch said.
He said typically it takes a player two years to grow into an effective setter in a league as tough as the Greater Spokane League.
People might have been second-guessing the decision following the opening two games of the season, which ended in losses to Mead and Rogers. Since those two setbacks, however, Robinson’s sets have led the Tigers to a record of 12-2, including a 7-1 second half to the season in which LC’s only setback was a loss to league-champion Ferris.
“Erika has done nothing but improve and improve,” Welch said.
“I wish I had her for another year. I think she’d be an all-city setter.”
Robinson transferred to LC from Rogers as a junior. While she says she didn’t make the move for athletic reasons, Welch was skeptical at first. He said he isn’t a big fan of such transfers.
“But Erika won us over,” he said. “She won us over by working hard on the court.”
Of course, Robinson isn’t the only reason why the Tigers captured the GSL’s second seed going into regionals Friday. Julie Brannan, a senior back-row player, Kelsey Williams, a sophomore who will be a setter next year, senior hitter Erin Naipo, senior blocker Shannon Snow, senior Jessica Filo and a handful of other players have slowly but steadily developed into a “genuine team,” Welch said.
“The one thing I saw over this last weekend (at districts) is that we’ve started to believe in each other. It’s a trust thing,” Welch said.
“Sure, a lot of that’s due to Erica. She’s had to learn the setter’s role.”
Something else Welch can count on from the 18-year-old is her precision from the service line. The funny thing is, when Robinson started playing volleyball six years ago, she said she was the only player on her Garry Middle School seventh-grade team who couldn’t hit an overhand serve.
Last Saturday afternoon, during a tough three-set win over Mead, which put LC into the district championship against Ferris, Welch saw a weak spot in the Mead defense while Robinson was taking her turn at the service line.
“I remember telling Erika, ‘We’re serving too deep on them. Serve the next one short,”’ Welch said.
“She served the next one short, and ended up with an ace.”