Setters continue to battle for starting position

By Paige Fieldsted, Staff Writer

The U women’s volleyball team will soon be able to switch from slamming volleyballs at one another to aiming their efforts at battling actual opponents. In the meantime, an intersquad battle for the starting setter position has intensified.

The showdown between Stephanie Shardlow and Abby Simmons began before Simmons, a freshman from Phoenix, ever arrived in Utah.
Head coach, Beth Launiere had planned to let the two girls compete for the starting position ever since she recruited Simmons specifically to play setter.

“Abby is a talented athlete and setter, with high mobility and great hands,” Launiere said “As she gains experience she will only get better.”
Simmons started out the season a step behind Shardlow and has spent most of the preseason adjusting to an unfamiliar system.

“A lot of teams in Utah play the same style of volleyball and it’s different from what we did in Arizona,” Simmons said. “I’ve had to get used to running a different system.”

Shardlow is the returning part-time setter from last season and hopes to keep the position she was thrust into last year as a freshman.

After all-American setter Sydney Anderson announced she would not be returning to Utah after the 2006 season, the team was left without a setter and turned to Shardlow, a walk-on out of California.

“Stephanie had to set out of necessity last year,” Launiere said. “She did an amazing job handling that pressure and improving throughout the year.”

Without an experienced setter to rely on, the Utes were forced to run a 6-2 offense and use both Shardlow and Keisha Fisher, who was originally recruited to replace longtime standout Connie Dangerfield at the libero position, as setter.

With the option to use either skilled setters this season, Launiere is planning to return to her preferred 5-1 offense. Shardlow and Simmons have been taking turns in practice orchestrating the offense.

“Both girls have been doing a phenomenal job,” Launiere said.
“Connecting with hitters is not easy and they have been handling it well.”
Both setters would agree that the competition between them has made practice more intense and in the long run, the battle will benefit the team.

“We know we are competing, but the competition makes everyone better,” Simmons said.

The girls are also aware that they are being evaluated and watched every day by the coaches.

“We know the position hasn’t been given to anyone,” Shardlow said. “Each day we just go out there and try and win.”

Despite the fact that the women are competing for the same position, the two have formed a close friendship since practice started.

Simmons said Shardlow has helped her with adjusting to the new system and being a freshman setter.

“I didn’t have anyone to help me last year and it was really hard to get adjusted,” Shardlow said. “I just want to be that person for her.”

Launiere said it’s great to see the two really working together and pushing each other to be better.

“They both want what’s best for the team,” she said.

Shardlow’s year of experience will be a big factor in who the coaching
staff chooses as the setter. Launiere said with so many experienced hitters, improvement for both setters is key.

Although Launiere said she will eventually settle on one setter, she gives no indication of when that will be or which person she will choose.

“Whoever is running the offense the best and is getting the hitters the sets is the one who will get the job,” Launiere said.

Shardlow and Simmons both believe that the best person for the team should get the position, regardless of class and previous experience.

“Being a freshman doesn’t mean anything,” Shardlow said. “We want the best person out on court.”

[email protected]

Tyler Cobb

Stephanie Shardlow is in competition with teammate Abby Simmons for the starting setter position, the competition has made practices more intense.