volleyball

Senior captain Ronnie Bither leads the Ivy League with 680 assists.

Dig. Set. Kill. The success of a volleyball team’s offense often relies on the relationship between the setters and the outside hitters.

Penn’s primary setter, senior Ronnie Bither, has spent the past four years working to make sure the Quakers’ offense runs smoothly. From getting players in position for digs and kills to finding her own ways to contribute defensively, Bither has catapulted to the top of the Ancient Eight for the assists she has doled out thus far in 2015.

Out of Penn’s 984 kills this season, Bither has assisted on 680 — 99 more than the next highest assist total in the conference. According to Bither, being responsible for setting up 69 percent of the Quakers’ offense comes down to one thing.

“A lot of it comes down to constant communication,” Bither said. “Having something said after each play and giving each other confidence helps a lot.”

After the setter lobs the ball up in the air, the responsibility then turns to the outside hitters to send the ball over the net for the kill. Senior hitters Alex Caldwell and Alexis Genske, the top two players on the team in kills, have spent the past four years working with Bither to ensure that they know each other’s tendencies down to a tee.

“They’re best friends,” coach Kerry Carr added. “They know what each other is thinking which has really helped us this year.”

Bither and Caldwell go back even further than their freshman New Student Orientation in 2012, as they became friends during their club volleyball days in high school while playing in the San Jose, Calif., area.

“We’ve kind of grown up together,” Caldwell said. “It’s been a lot of fun playing with her.”

Keeping the hitters happy is one of the most important jobs a setter has to take on. Making sure the ball is lofted perfectly and mixing up the looks to give the other team is something that is also improved by that constant communication.

“[Bither] does a good job asking for feedback from the hitters,” Caldwell added. “After every point she’s asking if the ball is in the right place.”

As of late, Bither has been spot on. Last Saturday against Dartmouth, before fellow senior Jasmine DeSilva’s kill put Penn up, 2-0, over the Big Green, Bither had to place the ball perfectly. She did just that.

Commonly referred to as the quarterback of the team, the setter often finds herself not only running the offense, but the squad’s defense as well.

“[Bither]’s really taken a step forward by playing defense first,” Carr said. “She’s learned to trust her teammates more.”

This past weekend, Bither showed off her versatility on both ends of the court with back-to-back double doubles. With a mind-boggling 61 assists to accompany 26 digs, the senior provided a bright spot in the team’s Ivy weekend split.

Sometimes the setter gets a chance to contribute to the kill column as well. In order to keep the opposing squad on its toes, the setter can use deception to sneak the ball over the net while the team backpedals to prepare for a kill.

“A lot of it has to do with looking at the other side of the net,” Bither said. “If we get stuck, you have to mix it up from time to time.”

A largely unheralded position, the setter is often the linchpin of a successful squad. Coming down the stretch of the Ivy schedule, the Red and Blue can look to Bither to help the team finish strong.

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