Women's Volleyball |
Oct. 5, 2011
By Shawn Sell
Being a setter is hard. Being a setter and starting as a freshman is even harder, but that is the role that UC freshman Caylin Mahoney has undertaken during her first collegiate season this fall. And by all accounts, Mahoney is handling the position like a seasoned veteran.
Mahoney's story starts nearly 1,000 miles away from Cincinnati in Fort Worth, Texas. Caylin's love of volleyball began at a young age as she began emulating her sister, Kelsey, three years her senior. In around the fourth grade, Caylin watched as older sister Kelsey started embracing the rather difficult art of setting. It didn't take long for little sister to start developing her skills as well, while deep down always longing to be just a little bit better then her big sis.
"My sister is a setter also and so that's how I got into setting," Caylin says. "I looked at what my sister was doing and decided I wanted to do that too. I always thought of it as a friendly competition; I always wanted to be a little bit better than she was. She helped me out a lot when I was younger."
When high school rolled around for the Mahoney sisters, Kelsey enjoyed an outstanding career, leading Keller Central to it's first-ever playoff berth and earning the No. 38 slot on the prepvolleyball.com list of Senior Aces. Three years later, Caylin did just a little bit better, being placed at No. 28 on prepvolleyball's list.
With Kelsey enjoying her college career at the University of Tennessee, Caylin was busy weighing her college options when she grabbed the attention of UC head coach Reed Sunahara. In the market for a setter that could start right away after the graduation of Annie Fesl, Sunahara liked what he saw during a recruiting trip to the Lone Star State and was surprised to find that Mahoney had no firm college plans as of yet.
"When we were looking for a setter, I had recruited her club before and I know the director so I asked him if she was still available and he said `yes, she is wide open,'" Sunahara recounts. "I told him that we wanted to get in and get to know her so we can tell her all about Cincinnati. So we started contacting her and one thing led to another and we were right in the thick of it and she ended up coming here."
With UC now in the race for her services, Mahoney made an enjoyable visit to Cincinnati. After taking time to weigh her options, Mahoney decided to commit to UC late in her junior year at Keller, choosing the Bearcats over Ohio University and Kansas State.
"I was just looking at all the different kinds of opportunities that I had and the pros and cons of each school," she says. "I just kind of took my time and had no reason to rush. Then I decided that Cincinnati felt right."
After arriving on campus this fall, Mahoney wasted no time in winning the starting setter job, filling the big shoes of Fesl, one of the top setters in program history. Things got off to a bumpy start for Mahoney and company as the Bearcats dropped three of their first four matches of the new campaign. It took time for the core group of UC hitters that had been set by no one but Fesl for the last two, if not three years, to develop chemistry with their new setter. Sunahara acknowledges the slow start, but is pleased with the turnaround over the first month of the season.
"At the beginning, there was an adjustment period," he says. "But now it seems that as every practice and every week goes by, I think they feel a little more comfortable with her. I think our hitting percentage and kills have gone up lately too."
That chemistry between Mahoney and her hitters seemed to reach its highest point thus far last weekend as the Bearcats picked up key BIG EAST road wins at Notre Dame and DePaul. For the weekend, Mahoney averaged a whopping 13.71 assists per set, while pacing a UC offensive attack that hit .320 in the pair of wins. Much to her surprise, Mahoney was recognized as the BIG EAST Rookie of the Week for her play.
"I really wasn't expecting it all," she admits. "I didn't know what to think. I felt like my teammates really helped me a lot (over the weekend). They gave me some really nice passes and put the ball away at some important times."
While it may seem like Mahoney is in the minority when it comes to freshmen starting at setter, that's not the case, at least in the BIG EAST. Entering this week, Mahoney is one of seven freshmen starting at setter in the league and is third overall (and second among freshmen) with 10.81 assists per set. Sunahara is the first to admit that many top tier programs don't start a freshman at setter, but he is pleased with the success his team has found by doing so.
"It's always tough," Sunahara says of starting a freshman setter. "You rarely see programs have freshmen setters. All of the good ones usually have a setter that either sits behind someone their first year or they redshirt just to learn the system and get the college experience. Then they get thrown in and that way they have a little time to learn the system and get the experience. For Caylin, one of the big things for her coming here was that we needed a setter right away."
"I think she is learning and getting better every time she steps out on the court," he adds. "I like that progress."