New Kid on the Bluff
Freshman Libero Patti Abshire is playing like a veteran
Published: Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Updated: Thursday, September 15, 2011 10:09
"If someone was blindfolded, they would have no idea she was that small."
That's what 6-foot senior Liz Homan said about her new teammate Patti Abshire, whose loud personality and growing confidence is leading the Dukes volleyball team that is off to a 8-3 start.
Standing at 5-foot-6 and hailing from New Berlin, Wisc., Abshire is the Dukes' youngest and smallest starter. But in her role, size doesn't matter, only experience. What she lacks in collegiate starts, she's gained in the high-profile club games she has played in since the 3rd grade.
"Patti has made the transition from high school to the collegiate level really well," head coach Steve Opperman said. "She's made it in a manner that it doesn't matter that she's a freshman. She has been playing like she's been on the team for two or three years already."
Taking over the libero role from graduated senior Amy Palko, Abshire leads the team with 172 digs in 36 sets played and has been the key piece to the Dukes. Homan said she could tell the team's new defensive specialist was nervous before her first collegiate start, but the nerves have faded through the Dukes' first 11 matches. Opperman credits the team with making her feel comfortable in the new role.
"I think anyone coming in taking the role of a senior has questions that they ask themselves: ‘Am I doing a good job, and am I fitting in?' Our team made her feel extremely comfortable," Opperman said.
Abshire anticipated the pressure, but has put it out of her mind.
"I feel like there are a lot of expectations for me to perform, but it's not like I don't have those expectations for myself, too," Abshire said. "Everyone is really supportive of it, and they don't treat me like a freshman. So it makes it easier for me, because it's like we're all in the same level."
Abshire admitted that that often means she doesn't catch breaks for the "freshman mistakes" another first-year player might get. Her piece of the puzzle is too important this year. Sophomore Allison Foschia, who was called upon to be an important player last fall, knows the pressures Abshire is under but feels as if she is handling them well.
"She's very relaxed on the court and playing like she knows how. It's great to see, because we really needed her to fill that role quickly," Foschia said.
The libero position requires an all-out style of play, risking injury to dive across the court and dig up a hard opponent's spike that can reach speeds around 50 mph. Abshire has led the Dukes in digging up those hard spikes four times this season including a 25-dig performance against Army in the Community Bankers Classic in California. Her competitive streak shows in practice drills with Homan, one of the team's hardest hitters.
"There will be certain drills where it's her hitting against me defending, and so when I can dig her, it's like a ‘you didn't win'-type thing," Abshire said, laughing.
"Liz hits the ball as hard as she can, and Patti will fly in out of nowhere and just start laughing at her," Opperman said.
If a competitive drive is Abshire's strength, she admits her weakness may be speaking up to players three and four years older.
"There's a lot that I kind of fall back and let other people do where I want to be more assertive, I guess. It usually takes me a little while to get into some of the swing of things, but I also don't want to step on toes," Abshire said.
If Abshire feels quiet among her teammates, they don't see it.
"She's not afraid to talk to the other back row players. We kind of have to have that open mind of communication, and it's good that she's willing to talk to us," Foschia said. "It's so important to have a libero that's willing to do that."