Even Ryley Gill doesn’t know how she does some of the things she does on the volleyball court. It makes for giggling conversations with her No. 10 Stone Bridge teammates during practice, even during games.
A hitter swings for a kill, and Gill, an Arkansas State commit, somehow gets under the ball. The setter tips unexpectedly, Gill is there. A serve comes down the line, and Gill dives like a penguin, her teammates say, to dig it out. Laughter and long rallies ensue.
For minutes at a time, the ball … just … won’t … drop.
“When she’s determined to keep a ball from hitting the ground, it won’t,” Bulldogs Coach Jill Raschiatore said.
That’s what Stone Bridge (4-2) is banking on this year. The Bulldogs lost five starters, and most of the offense from their 2015 Virginia 5A title team, to graduation. The strategy this season: keep the ball off the ground long enough to expose a weakness.
“What happens is we’re not good enough to put the ball down, but if we can keep the ball alive, maybe we can get points,” Raschiatore said.
That’s where Gill comes in. Standing at 5-foot-4, her striking distance for digs shouldn’t be that big. But it is. The ball stays up, another Bulldog whisks it away with a second pass, and Stone Bridge somehow gets a swing on offense.
Gill can leave her feet and dive through the air parallel to the ground and still make a balanced pass, Raschiatore said.
It frustrates other teams, especially those that are bigger, faster and more active at the net. Volleyball isn’t known for slug fests; it’s not a contact sport. But like a heavyweight boxer, Gill’s Bulldogs make teams go punch for punch in long rallies.
“Returning the ball means that we can play with them,” Gill said. “We’re at the same speed as them. We’re at the same level of talent as they are. Returning a ball doesn’t just mean something defensively, but it also says something to the offense that we need to put the ball down.”