COLUMBIA — When McKendree hit the ball over the net Monday night against Columbia College, they were expecting three hits for a return. Bump, set, and spike.
Cougars setter Luana Branco prefers to do it in two.
Branco, a senior from Sao Paulo, Brazil, has nearly perfected the setter tip. When a ball is bumped from a teammate towards Branco, she positions herself to pass it to an outside or middle hitter looking for a kill. Instead she quickly shifts her hands and tips the ball over the net, hoping to catch the defenders off guard.
"Her contact points on her sets are very high anyway, so its very deceptive," Cougars coach Melinda Wrye-Washington said. "A lot of setters will drop their hands, but her contact point is so high all the time that all she does is shoot it over."
Columbia College defeated visiting McKendree 25-18, 25-13, 25-16 to improve its record to 33-3 and 14-0 in the American Midwest Conference.
Branco says she looks to the defensive positioning of her opponents for her cues on when to tip. When a defense is in transition, it can be especially effective.
"Sometimes I see the players, they're open (apart from one another), so I tip because I know they're not going to be able to get it," Branco said.
Wrye-Washington sees a similar advantage.
"It works in transition a lot because our middles will make the middle hitter jump," Wrye-Washington said, "and then the middle of the court is open because the defenders are back thinking they're going to get their heads taken off by our middle hitters. That's why its so effective."
Wrye-Washington said McKendree's defensive alignment was why Branco could tip effectively Monday night. She said McKendree was playing its perimeter hitters back on the sideline, and never adjusted to Branco's tips.
Being aggressive as a setter is something Branco said she has been doing since she began volleyball. She learned the skill growing up in Brazil, and enjoys taking an offensive approach to her position.
"That's why I'm different from other setters," Branco said. "I tip a lot, and I have a lot of kills."
Entering Monday's match, Branco, who will play her final regular season match at home for Columbia College on Saturday, had tallied 202 kills. She was also ranked 13th in NAIA Division I assists per game, with 10.3 (1,239 total assists).
Columbia College returns to the court at 7 p.m. Wednesday when they play at Illinois-Springfield.