For a freshman entering the lineup at the setter position, there could be few more daunting tasks than jumping in on the fly with her team set to face Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference volleyball stalwarts Colorado Mines (14-4, 7-2 RMAC) and No. 9 Nebraska-Kearney (18-3, 9-0 RMAC).
But Fort Lewis College freshman setter Hali Groninger, who was forced into duty when senior Adriana Saiz went down with a PCL injury against Adams State last Friday, seems undaunted by the tough task ahead.
Its definitely going to take some getting used to, but Im very excited for it, and I think Im ready for it, Groninger said.
Sitting just one game back in the loss column behind West Division leaders Mesa State and Western New Mexico, the Skyhawks (12-6, 6-4 RMAC) will look to hold steady on their home floor this weekend without one of their key offensive stars. Saiz accumulated 673 assists before the injury, one that makes her return this season questionable.
Knowing Saiz is going to be on the shelf for an indeterminate amount of time, the experienced outside hitters such as Chelsea Flaming, Taylor Hillberry and Jessica Wilson have worked to make Groninger as confident and comfortable as possible.
Wilson said the freshman was eager to learn the hitters preferences on ball placement and other important areas without which the FLC offense could not function.
On Tuesday at practice, we pretty much just did hitting lines the whole time, and everyone was really connecting, and it looked really good, she said.
FLC coach Shelly Aaland was quick to point out that despite her lack of experience, Groninger wouldnt have been recruited in the first place if the coaching staff didnt have the confidence she could step in and get the job done.
Hali wouldnt be here if she wasnt capable of doing what shell be asked to do, Aaland said.
The experience of adjusting to a new setter midseason isnt foreign to the current crop of Skyhawks. After just five matches last year, senior Melissa Childs went down with an ACL injury, forcing Saiz into the lineup on a more permanent basis.
Its an experience Aaland hopes expedites the adjustment process this time around.
Well, hopefully the transitions faster, she said. They know that if they just decide to make it work, then itll work. Plus, we have a limited time left. We have to get going right now.
Groninger, a Denver East High School product, is used to playing pressure-packed matches from her time in a very competitive high school market; she said shes comfortable under the bright lights. The 5-9 freshman said that along with her high school experience, Saiz has helped throughout the season and even after her injury as a mentor, teaching Groninger the nuances of the college game.
Shes been a really good mentor to me this year, Groninger said. Shes just Adriana. Shes nice all the time, and shes really supportive. Shes a good person to have in front of you.
Even with all the teaching and coaching, it still comes down to on-court performance. After a lackluster 3-0 loss to Mesa State on Sunday, the Skyhawks will need a complete effort to rebound against two of the leagues best. But even without Saiz, Wilson said she thinks the Skyhawks are up to the task.
I think were a good enough team that were going to be able to (overcome) it fine, Wilson said.