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Volleyball’s Quartet: The 600 Club


VB 600 ClubThey’re the same age, of similar height, and come from different backgrounds from around the country.
When the Alabama State University women’s volleyball front row hitting lineup of Amber Bennett, Rachel Smith, Myla Marshall and Chelsey Scott stepped onto the court together as freshmen in 2012, it was an ongoing learning process as to how the four would mesh with such differing personalities and roots.
With personalities ranging from strong and vocal to more carefree and laid back, and with mixing backgrounds from city versus rural lifestyles, it took some time for each to understand one another and embrace what makes each unique.
Now, admittedly a much more mature bunch, the four players affectionately refer to one another as “sisters” and carry an unyielding, fierce determination when it comes to winning volleyball games and doing whatever it takes to claim another Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship.
“We all had a bit of culture shock,” Marshall said. “It’s funny now because we’ve all rubbed off on each other so much that it’s almost like we’re from the same place now. But originally, that was one of those crosses we all had to cross when we were ready. With Chelsey being from around here and with me being from [Memphis] Tennessee, it was very different. Oh boy. City versus country was a huge difference.”
Sharing the ball on the court among four players whom all are around six feet tall and possess the springs in their jump for prime volleyball skills was the other challenge with so many mouths to feed.
But, these players remained focused on winning and instead let their opponents worry about who is going to be heavy on the attack. It has all added up to the Lady Hornets’ (14-17 overall, 8-0 SWAC) second straight SWAC East Division title and a number one seed heading into Saturday’s SWAC Tournament in Baton Rouge, La.
Now all in their junior seasons, the concept of sharing has made them one of the most dominating front rows in the SWAC and one of the trickiest to defend because the offense can come from so many different players.
“We’re a really unpredictable set of individuals, so when we come together as a team, we’re really hard to stop,” Bennett said. “We can play different positions and give different looks. When coach puts us in complex situations to confuse our opponents, they don’t know where the ball is coming from and who is hitting it. As an opponent, you have to respect all four of us. If you don’t, then we’re going to burn you.”
The numbers left in their blazing trails speak for themselves. The quartet has now all passed the 600-kill threshold with potential to add to their totals with this year’s postseason and another full season next year.
Marshall became member of the 500 club on Sept. 11 vs. Southeast Missouri State. Two days later, Scott became a member of the club versus Southern Miss. Since, Marshall has hit the 600 mark on Oct. 17 against Mississippi Valley State. Scott went over 600 kills after getting nine in a 3-0 win against Alcorn State on Nov. 14.
Bennett and Smith began the season having already cleared the 500 mark. Each has been able to reach the 700 kill plateau during the season. Bennett got to 700 on Oct. 10 at Alcorn State while Smith followed up by hitting the 700 mark on Nov. 6 vs. Alabama A&M.
Another junior in Tiara Kelley is closing in on 500 kills. She has 451 kills heading into the SWAC Tournament.
“The goal is always to have a spread attack,” said Head Coach Penny Lucas-White, who was a right side hitter as a player at LSU. “I bounced right and left. I mastered middle hitting, but I believe in having diversity. For me, that’s why we were so dominant last year. It was a matter of molding players to play both outside and middle. When your production is coming from four or five players, it’s hard to commit a block against them. My outside could have a good swinging day if you commit in the middle, and vice versa. It has to come to fruition where all the kids can commit to playing in different ways.”
It’s been a trade off as to which players will rise up and show out with the big numbers.
In 2012, it was Scott and Smith who enjoyed eye-popping seasonal numbers. Scott put down a career-best 301 kills while Smith threw down her single-season best of 288 kills.
In 2013, the roles were reversed as Bennett soared to new heights with a conference-best 388 kills. Marshall emerged as well with a career-best 273 kills.
“Freshman year, it was Chelsey and Rachel,” Marshall said. “We were an outside heavy team. I believe Coach White was still trying to mold Amber and I into what she thought the middle should be. So that’s where you saw Amber and I picked it up and got results. Now, it’s a complete team on the middle and the outside, so I think that’s why the numbers are so spread out. I think it’s become a lot easier this year because it’s good to know that someone is there to have your back.”
In 2014, the quartet has alternated who receives the most attacks on any given day. Instead of a season-to-season basis, it’s developed into more of a game-to-game basis. They all hover around the 200-kill mark this season. Of the team’s 1,203 kills, the four have accounted for 847 kills.
Of the 37 times that an ASU player has either led the team in kills or shared a team-high in kills, Scott and Marshall each have done it on 11 occasions, Smith has led in five games and Bennett has led three times.  In total, the quartet has led in kills 30 out of a possible 37 times.
“I think it takes the pressure off of us a lot because we know that we can all deliver and bring something different on the court,” Smith said. “We have grown not only as a team, but as a family. It makes it a lot easier when it comes to games because we trust each other.”
Family is the common theme with the Lady Hornets. It’s a term the players and the coaching staff will often use in a preference to calling it a team.
“When you call a timeout, you hear them encourage one another,” said Lucas-White. “We celebrate each other’s differences. We’re not all alike, but we have the same goals. We’re all a family. It’s an amazing journey that they have all arrived at the same place. When you’re talking about spending so much time together and getting up at 5 a.m. for practice, with that grind, they can celebrate the victories and remember the losses.”
All in the name of becoming a better team, and, a stronger family.
“Our freshman year was our struggle year in my opinion,” Bennett said. “I remember we had a talk during our sophomore year that we just decided that we’re not finishing second or third as long as we are here. And, once you decide internally, and the people around you understand it, it’s hard to stop. We carried over that goal to the rest of the team. You have to have that killer mentality. That’s when we really became sisters.”