Ridgewood rises to the challenge posed by height disadvantage

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LANSING — The first hitting opportunity Illiana Christian’s Sydnee Van Beek had against the Ridgewood girls volleyball team came on the second point of the schools’ match.

The Vikings passed the ball well, then set the 6-2 outside hitter on Sept. 25. Across the net, the Rebels’ front row prepared to try to block the Ball State commit: Junior middle hitter Monica Zygula slid next to freshman right-side hitter Alyssa Malicki and the pair — listed at 5-10 and 5-11, respectively — jumped at the same moment Van Beek wound up to hit the ball.

But Zygula and Malicki’s block was unsuccessful, and Van Beek hit the ball cross-court to end the point.

The kill was the first instance of the Vikings exploiting their size advantage — something that Illiana Christian senior outside hitter Jamie Petrarca said was a source of confidence.

“To [play against] a smaller block is always nice,” said the 6-1 Petrarca, who recorded seven kills against Ridgewood. “I won’t be blocked as much.”

Ridgewood has had other matches in which the Rebels’ blockers faced a height disadvantage. Chicago Christian’s 6-1 senior standout Anna Kamp provided one challenge, while Timothy Christian’s fast offense and advanced plays posed two roadblocks to which Ridgewood underclassmen like Malicki and sophomore middle hitter Sandra Dybala are still trying to adjust.

The Rebels’ front row didn’t give up in its 25-16, 25-16 loss to Illiana Christian, however. For example, Dybala — who is 5-9 and rail-thin — finished with four blocks against the Vikings and tipped several other shots.

Dybala said she was nervous entering the match against Illiana Christian because the Vikings have five players 5-11 or taller.

“But it’s a good challenge to get up there and block a girl who’s taller than you,” she added. “It feels good after you get a block.”

Trying to limit an offense that has weapons like Van Beek and Petrarca requires several different tactics, such as good timing and maximum effort on one’s jumps.

A competitive nature is also key, Dybala said: “When you see them hit that hard, it gives you a bigger drive to go get your hands on it.”

Ridgewood’s Alyssa Malicki (14) hits the ball over the net at Illiana Christian on Sept. 25. | Jim Karczewski/for Sun-Times Media

Ridgewood’s Alyssa Malicki (14) hits the ball over the net at Illiana Christian on Sept. 25. | Jim Karczewski/for Sun-Times Media

Coaching is another important aspect, especially in identifying where opponents like to hit the ball. That helps blockers know where to place their hands, Dybala said.

Before the match against Illiana Christian, Ridgewood coach Dave Wlodarczyk watched the Vikings warm up, then went to several different members of his team’s front row — including Malicki, Zygula, Dybala and senior outside hitter Natasa Papulic — and told them that their opponents like to hit cross-court. That tip helped Ridgewood improve its block to defend cross-court shots as the match unfolded.

Still, size matters in volleyball, and sometimes a team like Illiana Christian has too much of it.

“They were going over the top of us,” Wlodarczyk said. “It’s hard to block that.”

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