Think of volleyball star Chidima Osuchukwu. The obvious image that comes to mind is one of her at mid-net, jumping for a ball just after the set. Before its arc comes close to reaching its peak and the defense has time to read the play, Osuchukwu’s hand meets the ball and punishes it down to the hardcourt.
Osuchukwu is GW’s most dominant weapon, but as the circle around her name on every opposing team’s scouting report has gotten darker and darker, she has had to make her game more versatile and practice getting kills from different locations on the court and along the net.
“Chi Chi loves the middle of the floor and she knows that she’s successful there,” head coach Amanda Ault said. “If she can be successful in other places, she gets away from that and goes into her groove. So it’s just reminding her, ‘Hey, open yourself up by running more things and then you’re not going to have those guys sitting on top of you.’”
Osuchukwu’s most dominant spot comes from right in front of senior setter Jordan Timmer. As a freshman and, mostly, as a sophomore, the Colonials could run plays with her in that spot over and over because her sheer power would take opponents by surprise. Even if she had a blocker, Osuchukwu could just send the ball through them.
This season, though, with Osuchukwu coming off an All-American honorable mention campaign, she’s more commonly drawn two or three blockers on the other side of the net. During back-to-back home losses to Saint Louis and Dayton, Osuchukwu was held to just 14 kills combined, a number she often passes in a single game.
After the Dayton game on Oct. 10, however, the Colonials won three straight and Osuchukwu averaged nearly 15 kills per game and an impressive four kills per set.
Osuchukwu said she still feels most confident in front of Timmer, but that she felt that moving around made her more effective in GW’s five-set win over American on Wednesday, where she totaled 19 kills.
“Tonight was probably one of the first nights that I have moved around as much,” Osuchukwu said Wednesday. “I think I was throwing the ball around. I was running different sets and I think it really [worked] because they didn’t know where or what I was doing,” Osuchukwu said.
The Colonials split two weekend matches against Rhode Island and Fordham on Friday and Saturday. Osuchukwu did not play due to injury, but Ault said that she is day-to-day and will be evaluated going into GW’s next matchup against George Mason. After that, the Colonials will get rematches with Dayton and Saint Louis.
The first games against the Flyers and Billikens exposed the Colonials’ need to run varied sets. Assuming she plays, those tests will show how much Osuchukwu has improved her game from many spots on the court.
The Colonials use two different sets for their middle blockers: one that’s meant to set the hitter a foot past a blocker and one that’s meant to set them right in front. But while that variation is often enough against weaker competition, it still hasn’t always given GW the versatility it needs against top opponents.
Timmer said that Osuchukwu has started asking for sets that she rarely has asked for before because the team has developed more confidence in certain sets, like a fastball from behind, by working on them in practice.
“It’s very easy to be comfortable in practice and to not try these things, so trying them in practice has been the most helpful for us,” Timmer said.
Timmer said it makes her feel more confident when hitters ask for sets because she knows that they are seeing the floor and helping her understand the other team’s tendencies. The setter functions as the “quarterback” of the offense, reading the floor and calling plays. Timmer is a high-IQ player, but others can still see things that she doesn’t.
As the game against American wore on and Osuchukwu called for more diverse sets, the Colonials improved their game and keyed in on where the Eagles were clogging the net. She still got plenty of her typical thunderjams from center net, with her hand meeting the ball quickly at a fast tempo from the set, but also slid over and found the floor from the right side and from further back.
“Jordan and I just knew that the same old wasn’t going to work, so we tried to adjust it,” Osuchukwu said. “I think it worked out well for us.”