Senior setter Kelly Edinger, here with Head Coach Geoff Braun, closed her career with 4,551 assists — a new Fredonia record.
Story by Ryan Maloney (’09), Graduate Assistant in Sports Information
During a September volleyball match in New Paltz, N.Y., senior setter Kelly Edinger broke Fredonia’s school record for career assists, which she increased to 4,551. It quietly became a crucial milestone in women’s volleyball program history.
Hitters and defenders get an abundance of recognition in volleyball because of the dynamic plays they make, but it’s the setter that a volleyball team cannot live without. Akin to the quarterback in football, she directs the team’s offense, touching the ball on almost every play. After the defense has played the ball, she’s responsible for putting it in a position where the hitter can make an effective attack.
The setter is credited with an assist when that attack scores a point. The resulting assist total is as much a reflection of the team’s efforts as the setter’s.
“Anyone who’s been on the team in the last four years has contributed to that stat in some way,” Edinger said of her record. “That stat isn’t only about me, because ultimately the hitter has to put the ball down for me to get an assist. Getting a good pass makes it easier for me to put up a good set. I just thought it was neat that it was a broken record that had to do with everyone.”
Alyssa Torpy (2005-09) was the previous owner of that record with 3,572 assists, and Traci Pieczynski (2002-05) held it before her with 3,421. Brittany Lis (2008-11) now stands at fourth with 2,969 assists.
That the last four setters have accumulated the most assists signals the growing success of the volleyball program. The definition of success, though, differs depending on who you ask.
“I think if you were to sit down with any of these girls, they would tell you that their success is because of their teammates around them,” Head Coach Geoff Braun said, “and their statistics are a direct result of their teammates.”
Though they all played the same position, each of the four setters brought a distinct skill set to the court.
“Traci’s most important trait was that everybody loved her,” Braun said, reflecting on the setters he’s coached over the last 13 years. “When Traci walked into the gym it was a different gym, and we were better for it. Torpy was so humble. She was so good, and yet she was so humble, and that made her very approachable. Brit Lis was the type of leader that led by her work ethic. She was going to outwork her teammates every day in practice, and there was nothing quiet about it. Kelly is definitely a lead-by-example [person]. She’s a role model. She wants to do things the right way and she makes really good decisions.”
Pieczynski and Torpy have each continued on to part-time coaching careers at top high school volleyball programs in the area: Pieczynski at St. Mary’s of Lancaster in Lancaster, N.Y., and Torpy at Our Lady of Mercy in Rochester, N.Y. The opportunity to create a sense of family for young volleyball players has played a large role in their decisions to stay involved with the game.
“When you’re on the court, those 14 girls are the best friends you’ll ever have,” Pieczynski said of her coaching philosophy at St. Mary’s. “Volleyball has changed so much since I graduated [high school]in 2002. Back then, we didn’t have all the talent in the world, but we had so much desire and so much loyalty to each other that we never wanted to let each other down. I try to keep the girls motivated, and instill the moral part of what it means to be a team and not quit on each other.”
Torpy spends time year-round giving back to the game, both at the high school level and in club volleyball. She even coached two current Fredonia players: junior Sara Madison and freshman Kailey Falk.
“It’s a constant place of happiness for me to be able to share my knowledge and experience with younger girls,” Torpy said. “I feel closer than I ever have with Fredonia because of my active involvement in volleyball. It’s so nice to have girls that you coached continue on in the college program you played in. It gives you a reason to go back, to see their happiness and stay involved. It’s one of the highlights about coaching.”
It could have been an omen when Torpy coached Edinger at a Rochester volleyball camp just a few years before Edinger would step into the same role Torpy had filled so thoroughly.
“I remember looking up to her and thinking it was so cool when I realized I was going to fill her shoes,” Edinger said. “Coming to Fredonia, you had to own the position and I didn’t realize my first year how much a leader the setter can be. I even remember watching Brit Lis play her senior year, and she just went for every ball. I didn’t want it to be a recovery year when I came in.”
Now that Edinger has finished her four years as Fredonia’s setter, the team will find its newest leader in 2016. Whether a freshman or a current player fills the role, Edinger’s sole piece of advice to her is to be confident.
“A lot of it is finding ways that can help your confidence,” she said. “Being vocal with your teammates and letting others know what helps your confidence is big. Your teammates want you to play well too. And get to know what helps other people, and what hurts their confidence. I say it’s my fault after almost every bad play. Sometimes I don’t mean it, honestly, but if me taking some blame for that will help their confidence go up a little bit, that helps the setter-hitter bond.”
Despite the difference in assist total throughout their careers, Braun hesitates to call one of the four the best setter he’s seen at Fredonia.
“All four setters were successful,” he said, “but what is the definition of success? I think it’s leaving the program better than when you entered it, and they all did that. They left me better as a coach for having coached all four of them, and now I know how high I can set my expectations for someone in that position.”