NAPPANEE – For those that follow volleyball, when was the last time a team had to game plan for a setter?
Middle hitters, outside hitters, absolutely. They score the points. They command the game. Maybe even a libero who dictates the back line, forcing teams to have to rethink their offensive approach. But a setter?
Enter NorthWood’s Caroline Mullet.
“The difference between most teams and NorthWood is that Mullet can move the ball so well and makes really good decisions,” said Tippecanoe Valley head coach Mallory Eaton after NorthWood made short work of her team in the sectional. “She knows exactly where to put the ball so their hitters can swing away. That really makes it hard to defend them.”
Eaton wasn’t alone in the sentiment. Wawasee head coach Jeff Phillips saw Mullet pick apart his club three different times this season and echoed similar thoughts. Warsaw head coach Rick Ashmore stated about the same after Mullet made it difficult for his defense to pick a hitter to cover in NorthWood’s win earlier this month.
Does Mullet herself buy into the idea that she’s become a factor in teams gameplanning against her?
“I don’t think teams have necessarily been trying to defend me, because we have Maddy (Payne) and Kate (Rulli) who can put the ball away,” said Mullet shortly after posing with her first volleyball sectional trophy last Saturday night at Wawasee. “The good setters, teams are going to follow them around because they can put the ball anywhere and you have to defend that. I don’t think I’m doing anything any different than the other good ones.”
The numbers certainly say otherwise. Mullet is currently, per MaxPreps, tied for 13th in the state in total assists with 916 and just a handful out of the top 10. Her 10.4 assists per set has her fifth in the state. Those are impressive enough, but consider what else Mullet does for the Red Slam. Her 318 digs leads the team, one of five NorthWood players with at least 200 digs. She also has 107 kills, one of five on the roster with plus-100 kills registered, and has tossed in 34 aces and 11 blocks.
Remember, she’s a setter. Or, is she?
“It’s the stereotypical thing to say setters don’t play defense, but Caroline has really worked on that part of her game,” said NorthWood head coach Hilary Laidig. “Every aspect, she is getting better. When she is in the front row and jumps, it takes a block away from Maddy. They have to make a choice on Caroline or Maddy, and either way, it’s not good. It absolutely changes the game. I have not seen a setter like her in a while. She’s really become the total package.”
Mullet’s play has elevated NorthWood into rarified air. The program, ranked No. 4 in Class 3-A heading into the state tournament, has been on some kind of roll. The Panthers haven’t lost since Aug. 24, and ahead of its matchup with Northwestern this Saturday in the morning game of the Norwell Regional, Mullet and Co. have won 28 straight matches, including a 7-0 run in the Northern Lakes Conference, winners of three in-season tournaments, and have only given up two games in this 28-game stretch.
Mullet, teamed with classmate Maddy Payne, have been doing this much longer, dating back to the summer when their NIVA club team FRFR placed high at the USAV Nationals in Indianapolis, one of the top club tournaments in the country.
“I’m really kind of introverted, so I’m not the first one to speak up,” offered Mullet. “By my club coach, Adria Anderson, she got me out of my comfort zone and really had me being more vocal on the court. Talk more with my hitters, talk more with my passers so we’re all on the same page. It’s really helped my game a lot.”
It’s been great communication that has NorthWood on a fast track, and with Mullet doing a little of everything, the Red Slam could be the talk the volleyball community in the days to come.