On every play, countless possibilities rush through senior Lida King’s head.
The setter for the Northfield volleyball team is charged with keeping track of each of her teammates and deliberating in a matter of seconds where to prop the ball to, while also monitoring the status of the opposition’s defense to make sure she doesn’t lead any of the Raider hitters into a brick wall.
And, in a change from last year, she doesn’t get a break, with Nora Lehmkuhl graduating from last year’s squad and leaving King as the lone setter on the court in a 5-1 formation.
“It’s been a pretty big adjustment, but honestly my team has made it so easy,” King said. “The passes are perfect and all the hitters are really good so I can set wherever, and I have some experience playing 5-1 on JV here or in my club season.”
In a simplistic view, King operates as a go-between for the Raiders. When a ball travels onto Northfield’s side, she begins to position herself in a spot where whoever records the dig can easily pass her the ball, before redirecting the ball either straight up, out in front of her or behind her for any of her teammates to slam the ball back across the net.
From a different perspective, though, all the offensive action for the Raiders relies on King.
“I would say it’s one of the toughest positions just because she’s got to know where she’s going all the time, she tells all the hitters what they’re running,” Northfield coach Tim Torstenson said. “She’s kind of the quarterback on the floor.”
From the first match of the season, a 3-0 sweep of Farmington, it was clear King was capable of handling the enlarged role while she dished out 40 assists. She upped that in the second game of the year, a 3-2 victory against New Prague, when she handed out 52 assists, before she directed the offense as Northfield stormed to a title at the highly-competitive Southwest MN Challenge.
In 10 total sets across five matches in Marshall, King handed out 114 assists, compared to 134 total kills for the Raiders. In three knockout round matches (six sets), King racked up 76 assists, while she also registered six kills of her own during the two-day tournament.
That’s right, in addition to tracking her own teammates, King keeps a constant eye on the opponent to track whether or not she can send her set directly over the net and into a soft spot in the defense.
King pointed to a moment in Northfield’s 3-0 win against Winona on Thursday, when she drifted toward one side of the court, felt the Winhawks move along with her and pushed a ball back across to a newly vacated patch of hardwood.
While she enjoys scoring herself, King said her preferred type of action occurs in the blink of an eye. Essentially, instead of lofting a high-arcing ball to one of her hitters, King enjoys quickly propping up a set that is immediately slammed down before the opposition’s block can mobilize.
“I just like everything that’s fast,” King said. “If I have three fast (routes) on the court and can just set whoever, that’s really fun.”
That takes some skill, particularly when it comes to court vision. When the distribution is that quick, there’s little margin for error when it comes to timing or placement.
That level of difficulty is ramped up when she delivers the ball behind her head, a move where King says she relies on trusting her teammate occupying the correct spot at the opportune moment, or quickly calculating where the hitter is — and will be in another second — based on her voice.
That spatial awareness, Torstenson said, is the largest area of improvement from last year to this year for King.
“She knows who’s hitting well, she knows where she needs to go,” Torstenson said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things, and the other part is she’s got it in her head that she’s also an offensive weapon. She’s gotten some tips for us at key times that have really changed the momentum.”
That’s helped the Raiders storm up to the No. 2 spot in the Class AAA rankings thanks to four wins against opponents that were ranked in Class AAA (Wayzata, Lakeville North, New Prague and Prior Lake), and Class A No. 2 Minneota.
As Northfield embarks on its quest to win a third straight Big 9 Conference title, and potentially claim the program’s first section title in November and make its inaugural voyage to the state tournament, King will be charting the offensive course — a vision that’s become clearer and clearer with every calculation.
“I’ve been playing volleyball since fourth grade, and it’s just taken a long time to get there,” King said. “Every time that I play I think I get a little bit better at it and I get better at some aspect of the game.”