In the shadows
October 26, 2010
The opposing team fires the ball across the court. Ginny Bray skies above the net to slow the ball right before Lindsay Kresch dives across the floor for the dig. The play ends with Erin Skipper smashing the ball over the net to finish the point for William and Mary, and the crowd erupts.
Somewhere in between, senior Cassie Crumal was responsible for the most important part of the play, but her name will not be remembered. It’s not a due to a lack of importance to the Tribe. It’s her position.
Crumal is the Tribe’s setter. And while other positions on the court lend themselves to stat sheet stardom, setters remain in the margin.
“It takes an educated volleyball person to really appreciate what a setter does,” Head Coach Melissa Shelton ’91 said. “But setting is certainly one of the toughest positions.”
Setters have to be leaders, and they have to be able to think fast. While other positions can focus
only on digs and spikes, setters have to gauge the mood of their team on each possession.
“I can be best friends off the court with my teammates, but on the court it can be different,” Crumal said. “It’s because we expect so much from each other.”
The relationships Crummal has with her teammates have developed ever since her first year with the Tribe, a year when she did not have the assurance of a starting role. She began as a backup behind 2008 CAA Setter of the Year Kim Mount ’09.
Although Crumal did not see regular time on the court, she said she still garnered valuable experience.
“It was a new situation for me — not playing all the time like I did in high school. It was really the first time I was able to watch, but I learned a lot,” Crumal said. “And the competition between us in practice made both of us better.”
In her new role observing Mount as starter, Crumal was forced to learn the ropes of being a setter for the College.
“For Cassie’s first two years, she was primarily a backup,” Shelton said. “But she still needed
to know the plays, know the game plan and be ready at any moment.”
And Crumal learned exactly what it took.
“The setter has to take charge, control the flow of the game, call out plays, tell the hitter which way to run, set the hitter for a kill — all while reading the other side of the court to find out how the other
team is defending,” Crumal said.
Fans not familiar with volleyball will likely not understand Crummal’s role on the court the way they understand, for example, a quarterback’s role.
But the setter’s role is just as important.
“The setter position is most commonly compared to a quarterback in football, except the setter can’t hold onto the ball in the pocket for three or four seconds, Shelton said. “She has to pass the ball in a split second.”
In Crumal’s junior and senior years, sophomore setters Jordyn Moloney and Molly Krull challenged her for playing time, much the same way Crumal challenged Mount.
Where she once was the young gun challenging the veteran for playing time, Crumal found herself in
the opposite role.
“Now that she’s a senior, we expect leadership from her,” Shelton said. “She has not had a problem
with that, since she’s very vocal and not afraid to be loud, and she is such a hard worker.”
But throughout her four years, whether she was assuming a backup role or leading the Tribe, Crumal said she remembers her first match most vividly. The College squared off against Virginia
Tech, and Crumal was forced into action alongside then-fellow freshman Skipper and Bray.
The trio, who later dubbed themselves the “Freshman Front Row,” or “FF” for short, stepped on the court for their first collegiate match with wide eyes.
“The very first point of the very first match I set a pass to [Skipper], who hit it right into the antennae,” Crumal said. “To this day, we laugh about it.”
Now, three years and hundreds of sets later, Crumal will line up for her last match, her last game and her last set. Chances are she’ll find one of her fellow FF mates, much like she did in her first match. But this time, instead of finding the antennae, her FF teammates might snag a kill, get the credit and maybe even grab a headline the next day.
But Crumal will know who made it all happen.
“Cassie has been in a lot of roles for us — from a definite backup to a starter this year — and she’s handled it well as her hat keeps changing,” Shelton said. “But what differentiates Cassie is that she puts her best effort in every day, and that’s all we can ask for.”