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Rebels Volleyball Position Watch: Middle Blockers

9632721.jpgThe middle blocker position rarely goes unnoticed. How could it? It usually contains the biggest player on each team smack dab in the middle of each play. But when it came to filling the most prominent spot on the court, the choice wasn’t an obvious one for head coach Steven McRoberts.

“It was the biggest question mark coming into the season,” said McRoberts. “It is the toughest position in volleyball at the college level. You should be involved in just about every block and you are asked to transition and be an option for the setter every time.”

Ole Miss entered the 2016 season with two openings at the position, this meant that someone had to step up to the plate, or in this case the net, to fortify the spot. It did not remain empty for long when junior Taylor Alexander (Breaux Bridge, Louisiana) got her hand on the ball.

Alexander has greatly surpassed her teammates in both the hitting percentage category and total blocks, but it hasn’t always been this way. Last season, she was third in line and was only given the ball a total of 33 times. So far this season, in one month of play, she has seen it 239 times. So what made the difference?

“She got a lot stronger over the offseason and got her jump up to 10-foot-6,” said McRoberts. “Right now she is playing as good as any middle in the league and we need it to continue.”

In the past month, Alexander has jumped her way into success, averaging 82.3 jumps per match allowing her to be named to the Lipscomb Invitational All-Tournament Team, the Rebel Classic All-Tournament Team and, this past weekend, the MVP of the Scenic City Showdown. She will enter conference play with a .410 hitting percentage and 57 blocks and concluded last weekend’s play setting her single-match career-high of 17 kills. Alexander currently stands at No. 3 in the conference in hitting percentage.

“She has done an outstanding job. You can tell every match she is getting more comfortable being the go-to and a more seasoned middle,” said McRoberts. “It is really nice to see how fast she’s come along. She is definitely a threat. The past two weekends she has been arguably the best attacker on the team.”

Alongside Alexander are two young faces, sophomore Audrey Fischer (Chesterfield, Missouri) and freshman Nayo Warnell (Dickinson, Texas). The two are different players, and McRoberts made a point that all players in this position are a work in progress and that the group feeds off of each other to improve individually.

Prior to Ole Miss, Warnell earned First Team All-District three of her four high school years as well as Second Team All-County her junior and senior seasons. She was mentioned in Vype Magazine as a Top 50 volleyball player in the Houston area and won the National Volleyball 17 Open Championships while playing for Absolute Volleyball Academy.

Warnell has contributed in her first season as a Rebel as Alexander’s counterpart, playing in 52 sets. She notched six kills and four blocks to total her single-match career-high hitting percentage with .385 during her debut against UC Davis. Warnell will enter conference play hitting .193 with 38 blocks.

“You can sometimes tell that she’s green and trying to learn,” said McRoberts. “We are working with her every single day on the basics and to help her play to her potential, because there is a ton. Even though she has held her own, we know that there’s a lot more in her.”

Third in-line stands Fischer, who joined the Rebels from Nerink High School, where she was named First Team All-District, First Team All-Conference and Second Team All-Region. This past season, Fischer made two appearances, recording her first kill in the win over Mississippi Valley State. Fischer has already played in six sets during non-conference play this season, contributing a match point kill against McNeese State.

“She works hard, is a great teammate and has been given some opportunities this year to come in. She’s played the position the way that we need her to,” said McRoberts. “She does a great job in practice of pushing both Taylor and Nayo.”

The middle blocker position will continue to be pushed as the Rebels look to build on their 11-2 non-conference record with the start of SEC play this Friday against No. 6 Florida.

Courtesy of Ole Miss Sports

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Adam Brown
Adam Brown
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