Some players dribble the ball. Others spin it in the palm of their hand. Another might bounce the ball with two hands a number of times so specific that it’s borderline obsessive compulsive.
It’s all in preparation for what most volleyball coaches rank above all other skills: serving.
“It is the single most important thing that you can do,” said Valencia coach Ray Sanchez. “Serving is the most important skill at any level.”
A good serve can set the tone for an entire match. A bad serve could spell doom. And in the Foothill League, there is plenty of good serving.
The objective from the service line can vary depending on the opponent or game scenario. A consistent priority, no matter what the situation, is getting the opponent’s offense out of system.
“If you have really good serving and then you keep them out of system, you’re going to be getting a lot of free balls,” said Hart’s Megan Soto. “We get a lot of free balls and we’re able to execute off of them.”
Soto, who currently has 24 aces, could break the Indians’ single-season record for aces this year. She’ll have to crack 64 for the honor.
Soto has an incredibly accurate jump float serve, one that coach Mary Irilian says hits the targeted area on the court nearly 99 percent of the time. Although the jump float serve is an advanced serving style, it’s not always the best choice.
Valencia players learn each type of serve and rotate in the most appropriate style of serve based on the game situation.
Saugus’ Kayla Tait utilizes a top spin serve, which starts with a one-handed toss that creates a spin on the ball. Standing at five feet and five inches, Tait’s style works to her advantage and has earned her 41 aces through preleague and league.
“For our team, it’s the most important thing because we are so undersized,” Tait said. “It’s not like we’re a big, power-hitting team, so we get our points back at the service line and that’s the way we win games.”
Saugus is undefeated in Foothill League play thus far and credits serving to a lot of their success. Hart is the only other undefeated team in the league and attributes the same skill set to the wins.
“Put pressure on (other teams) offensively, they start to get frazzled and break down,” Irilian said. “It just gives you, ultimately, a better chance of winning if you’re highly effective in serving.”
Aces can drastically alter the momentum of a game, too. Centurions coach Zach Ambrose recalls a five-ace game for Tait that generated countless free balls and consequently, points. A win in which Soto executed four consecutive aces stands out in Irilian’s mind.
“It does absolutely carry the team,” Irilian said. “It gives you a cushion, obviously, and then everyone is pumped and the server is pumped because then they step onto the court no matter what happened with that play, they’re ready to pass and do more.”
As much as quality serving can win games, poor serving can equally be a hindrance. After sharing the Foothill League title last season, the Vikings have struggled out of the gate this year and put part of the blame on serving.
So, they’re working to fix it.
“We’ve had one practice of all serving,” said Valencia’s Avery Cop. “We spent the whole two hours of practice serving and then every day I think we at least spend an hour on serving. Serving is super critical.”
Strengthening serves is just as much a priority for the best teams in the league as it is of those that are struggling.
“It’s always a work in progress,” Irilian said. “There’s some matches we’ve been very effective as far as serving and they can see their percentages. There’s other matches we’ll still win where we’re terrible at serving.
“So just go back to the drawing board and assess what we got wrong and how can we continue working on it.”