Cougars get good tip from top-rated setter

Luana Branco loves kills,
but her coach wants her to be smart when tipping.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:07 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

At game point of the first game in the Columbia College volleyball team’s 30-21, 30-22, 30-19 sweep of Benedictine College on Tuesday, setter Luana Branco received a pass, jumped, and instead of setting to a hitter, tipped the ball behind her, hitting the Ravens’ sideline perfectly to end the game.

Branco, the American Midwest Conference Setter of the Year, said she loves to score but is rarely able to because she is a setter. Her desire to score comes from her origins as a hitter. Branco, who is 5-foot-10, learned to play volleyball as a hitter. Of her 10 years of volleyball experience, the first five were as a hitter, and the latter five were as a setter. Branco rarely gets opportunities to go for kills as a hitter, but when she does, she always enjoys it.

“Normally the setters do not know how to hit the ball — when the ball comes they just pass the ball to the other side, they don’t hit,” Branco said. “(Hitting is) fun because they don’t expect that from the setter.”

The easiest way for Branco to score is by tipping the ball over the net into empty space. Branco’s role is similar to that of a point guard; the primary role is to distribute the ball to teammates, but both can be deadly when a point guard pulls up for a quick 3-pointer or a setter tips the ball over. However, both become ineffective if they are too aggressive on offense; a point guard that shoots too much early in the shot clock kills possessions and a setter tipping into a waiting defense plays into the opponent’s hands.

Cougars coach Melinda Wrye-Washington said that while she likes Branco’s aggressive mind-set, she wants Branco to tip less because teams are ready for her.

“The scouting report is out; everybody knows the game,” Wrye-Washington said. “She gets one and then they’re there.”

Tipping is most effective when the defense is spread out on the court, anticipating a hard shot from a hitter. Wrye-Washington said tipping then is fine, but Branco tips off bad passes to try and save a point when it is easier for the defense to react to her.

“When we’re passing well it’s OK to tip, but she’s kind of gotten herself in the routine where if it’s a bad pass she’s tipping,” Wrye-Washington said. “The best situation to tip is on a perfect ball, even for a hitter. The best situation to tip is on a perfect set where you’ve got everybody back on their heels, they’re waiting to dig and then there’s the tip.”

Because Branco jumps when she tips, Wrye-Washington said she wants Branco to incorporate the jump serve more into her game to confuse the defense.

“If I jump to set, every team is going to jump with me because I like to tip the ball,” Branco said.

The Cougars will play in the semifinals of the Region V Tournament on Friday at Southwell Complex.

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