For an entire summer and the first few steps of the 2019 schedule, Kansas City volleyball coach Christi Posey felt perfectly content to roll out her plan, one that pushed the Roos to a 21-11 record the year before, the squad's first winning record since 2014.
But after an injury to an outside hitter thinned out options offensively, Posey decided to make junior Alli Schomers the primary setter and shift to a 5-1 offense. There was no guarantee the dramatic change would work, as Schomers hadn’t played in a 5-1 since high school, but the Roos proved resourceful and pushed their way to a 17-11 record, 12-4 in the Western Athletic Conference.
With the talent and ability to adjust holding firm, Kansas City earned a spot in the 2019 National Invitational Volleyball Championship, the first-ever postseason berth for the program. The Roos will face UNLV (19-10) at the South Dakota regional on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ET.
Schomers ended up as the 2019 WAC setter of the year; Posey watched anxiously at times as the new plan unfolded, but fortunately the roster grew into the challenge.
“It was a combination of things, like it generally is when you make a significant decision like that. The 6-2 had been effective because we usually have good balance with (multiple) attackers; that didn’t quite happen with our personnel,” said Posey, who is in her ninth year with Kansas City. “A sign of an evolving coach is making decisions based on personnel and not on their style or personality. We have a quality setter in Schomers, she ran a 5-1 earlier in career, and that was helpful. We also had some kids step up and play well, and that system seems to work for right now, and we hope to have success as we move through the tournament.”
After a solid freshman year in 2018, Melanie Brecka has muscled up again with 345 kills, and Ty Lukes continues to patrol the middle with offensive and defensive impact. The leading light is arguably Alicia Harrington, a senior outside hitter who has 404 kills and earned first-team all-WAC honors, but the team has been tough to rattle on essentially every spot on the floor.
“Melanie Brecka has been a mainstay for us, a solid offensive player, with great volleyball IQ. She’s versatile, can jump off one or two feet, puts ball into play with good decisions. Ty Lukes has rallied the last part of the season, had a bit of a rough start after a breakout season last year,” Posey said. “We rely on Mykal Sadler in the middle (who missed all of 2018 with a knee injury) as well. Alex Ratzlaff and Maddie Renn are critical to our success, providing such great stability in handling the ball, and in our offense when we want to play fast in front of and behind the setter.”
The season ended up with multiple highlights, but the Roos learned a lot about themselves at a tournament hosted by Missouri, where the strengths of the new offense, and its weaknesses, had nowhere to hide.
“The tournament at Missouri had three quality opponents; after all that I felt we had settled into the 5-1, and I felt better about our two-hitter situation,” Posey said. “I don’t know if we played all that great against Northern Iowa, but Austin Peay has always been a high-level opponent, maybe a little down this year, but we battled and toughed it out and played well.
“And even though Missouri smoked us, I was really pleased with how our kids responded to the challenge and how we performed. I appreciated and admired how we battled and hung in; that’s been our mantra, get through the ugly and get to the other side and see where we are … put pressure on people, and we have a shot.”
In taking on UNLV, Posey said her team will have to hit the court at full readiness and attention, as the Rebels are a tough serving outfit that thrives on the disruption caused when the first pass is off the mark. The best thing is getting to scout, prepare and execute in a postseason moment, which is the kind of thing that can really stick with a program.
“Clearly, the NIVC elevates our program in all phases. From a recruiting standpoint, we can speak to the opportunity to keep playing,” Posey added. “It’s important for us, and we’re so appreciative to grab this opportunity because I was so sad when the NIVC stopped (in 1995). What I want us to do is work toward having more relevance in the Kansas City area … we see the KC volleyball community having great depth and talent, and we always recruit first here. We want people to see us as a team to be recognized, and have folks come over to watch us play and see our kids, who work as hard as anyone in a Power 5 conference.”