Mackenzie Schmucker has taken on more responsibility for Lakewood Ranch in year two
Kills, kills, kills.
Whenever anyone talks volleyball stats, the first thing referenced is the kill. At Lakewood Ranch High, the student section even has a poster dedicated to tracking senior outside hitter Anna Shelby Dees’ kills each match.
What is forgotten is the set-up. There are no kills without assists, no hammering home a ball, breaking an opponent’s will, without someone making that ball look like a nail, perfectly placing it in a hitter’s strike zone.
For Lakewood Ranch volleyball (4-2), that person is sophomore Mackenzie Schmucker, the sister of former Mustangs captain Jordan Schmucker. Against Manatee High (0-4) on Sept. 5, Schmucker had 39 assists in her team’s five-set home win. That’s a lot, meaning Schmucker kept the offense flowing the way it was supposed to flow. She needed every one of them to beat the Hurricanes in a match that was closer than it probably should have been thanks to some defensive breakdowns by the Mustangs.
Schmucker simply rolled with the flow. As a setter, she has to always be composed, never getting too high or low. Her team needs her in the zone. It is sometimes a thankless job, but a necessary one, and it is more difficult than casual fans think.
“The hardest part is trying to get to all the second balls,” Schmucker said. Each team gets three hits before the ball has to go over the net. Typically, the second pass sets up the third and final hit, the kill. If Schmucker is not in position, or is late getting there, the whole sequence can go awry. Schmucker said some teammates like passes higher than others, or more inside or outside. Remembering everyone’s preferences, she said, comes naturally after a while.
Schmucker also calls the plays — though she said coach Perri Hankins will veto a play call in certain situations. Sometimes she bases it off her gut, she said, and sometimes off how the opposition’s blockers are aligned. It is something Jordan taught her, along with encouraging her to be more vocal on the court.
“Make sure to tell them what they need to do,” Schmucker said, recalling her sister’s advice. “Pretty much all the stuff I do, I saw her do, before I was even on the team. She would give me those tips. Talk to hitters and try to get feedback.”
Hankins said she has seen growth in Schmucker in all those areas, especially taking command on the court. She can use different tempos to keep the defense guessing, Hankins said, and she is reminiscent of her sister in her serving.
“Setters don’t get to score very often, so serving is how they attack,” Hankins said. “That is where they can strike, and Mackenzie knows how to position hers. She and Jordan are both aggressive in that way.”
Hankins said she wants Schmucker to get more comfortable with establishing the middle of the court instead of always looking to the outside first, but she is impressed with the sophomore, and knowing her family history, Hankins believes she will only get better from here.
That's good for Lakewood Ranch. As setters go, so do teams, and the Mustangs have the goods required for a bright future.