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Ben's Babbles: A smashing good time

September 24, 2011

Kaili Duffy rises to the net. A Pendleton defender goes up to try and stop her. No dice. Duffy winds up and sends the ball flying off a helpless player in the back row.

The crowd at Vannet Court roars. Duffy shrugs her shoulders and goes back to her spot. Just another day at the office.

Moments later it's Meighan Frazier's turn. Tracy Mok puts up a perfect set She cocks her lower legs back up the knees, focuses in like the ball is someone she hates and she is about to punch it, and rockets it over the net. The crowd again cheers, the Eagles on the court celebrate and Frazier slaps a bunch of high fives.

It was not supposed to be this way. The Hood River Valley volleyball team was supposed to struggle attacking the net this season.

Not so much.

The Eagles entered the season worried about its height and depth at hitter. The Eagles lost Melanie Siegrest, their tall and talented hitter and blocker from last season. To fill the gap, Duffy and Frazier have simply started hitting the ball hard enough for about four players.

"We knew it was going to happen," Frazier said. "We expected it so we worked hard especially at our blocking."

The pair are the focus of every team the Eagles play. When only one of them is on the court at a time, front row blockers cheat in their direction.

When both are on the floor at the same time, the effect can be devastating on opponents.

Against Pendleton Thursday night late in the match, the ball went to setter Tracy Mok. At the net the eyes of three defenders flitted back and forth trying to decide if they should focus on Frazier or Duffy. The ball instead went to Logan Bailey, who blasted it through the split defense.

That confused them more, which left Duffy unblocked to send a rocket to the back line as HRV headed toward the win.

Duffy now has 84 kills on the season while Frazier has 70, leading the team by a wide margin.

They both also have completely different styles.

"I know, it's crazy," Mok said of Duffy's expression after she pounds the ball to the court. "It's like it's no big deal at all."

"I'm just in the moment and stay focused," Duffy responded

"We're trying to work on that," Frazier bounced back.

A few years ago, such play would be unimaginable at Vannet Court.

The Eagles just hoped to get the ball over the net by softly hitting, bumping or push-setting it over.

On any given night a trickle of people might show up. Now the Eagles are a hot ticket in a season where before most of the focus was on football and soccer.

"Now we're boss," a laughing Mok says.

Duffy may not show it, but she loves the reaction some of the kills get.

"It feels nice," she said. "It's awesome."

Planned plays and fakes were unheard of a couple of years ago before the Eagles got some players comfortable playing at - and above - the net.

As were bruised faces.

This HRV team is still talking about a hit by Duffy last week that bounced off the face of a Hermiston player.

"Just set the ball to Kaili; she just hit the ball off that girl's face," HRV coach Scott Walker said of his reaction at the time.

Walker starts grinning when asked about how things change with a couple of players who can rise up and blast the ball over the net.

It gives opponents something to worry about and even if neither one winds up putting the ball over the net, it opens up the offense for other players like Bailey, Courtney Harvey, and Katie Smith, all of whom are capable hitters.

It also allows Mok to take a break from padding her assist stats and slip the ball over the net herself once in awhile - which is how HRV scored its final point against Pendleton Thursday.

After going to five sets with Pendleton, the Eagles are focused on distributing the ball and making sure they finish plays when they start to tire in the middle sets.

Duffy and Frazier continue to pile up kills, however they can get them.

"I'm not going to lie; I actually have like the second lowest vertical leap on the team," Frazier said of how she tucks her lower legs back as she goes up for a spike. "There was a picture of me last year where people were like, 'You are so far off the ground,' and I really wasn't."

Optical illusion or not, the results have been real enough and the Eagles - and their fans - are glad to have a team that has no worries about blasting the ball over the net.

"We got that one back set to Kaili tonight were she just put it down and I knew we were going to win," Walker said of the effect of having power players. "It just lifts everybody up."

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