Leyden’s Carly O’Kray OK with moving from setter to hitter

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When Leyden senior volleyball player Carly O’Kray first found out that she was going to be a middle hitter on varsity, she was caught off guard.

She had been a setter most of her career.

“My middle school coach thought I should be a setter, so I was surprised when I was asked to play middle,” O’Kray said. “(Leyden) already had a setter that was playing all the games. I was up for playing middle because I wanted more playing time.”

O’Kray proved she could handle the transition just fine.

She earned all-West Suburban Gold honors as a junior and appears poised to duplicate the feat this season.

“I took her up to varsity her sophomore year and we needed a middle,” Leyden coach Danielle Kowalkowski said. “She’s tall and blocking is her best asset. She’s grown into the position so well.

“She comes in early and works on her footwork and always works hard. As a senior, she’s a leader on the court. She puts a lot of time in on her serve and just wants to play. She wants to be on the court and doesn’t want to come off. She has a lot of energy.”

O’Kray helped the Eagles place third at their six-team round-robin tournament Saturday with a 2-3 record.

Leyden, which beat Westmont 12-25, 25-19, 15-13 and Willowbrook 25-16, 25-21, was led by senior outside hitter Kelly Murphy (25 kills), sophomore outside hitter Emily Steininger (15 kills) and O’Kray (13 kills).

“She’s awesome,” four-year varsity starter Murphy said of O’Kray. “She’s my best friend. She’s our strongest middle and we work well together. She’s very versatile. Coach puts her in the back row and she can bump, set and hit. She does everything well. She’s a good person and is the same person on and off the court.”

O’Kray demonstrated her versatility Sept. 11 in Leyden’s win over Streamwood. In addition to five blocks, she had 14 service points and six aces.

“It’s rare for a middle to play all the way around, but she doesn’t come out,” Kowalkowski said. “She’ll play back-row libero and serves well with a jump float.”

O’Kray is also a softball player and was a cheerleader the past three years, but decided to compete in gymnastics this year instead.

She admits missing setting at times, but has no regrets about the position change.

“I didn’t think I’d do as well as I have in the middle,” O’Kray said. “Being a middle hitter is a lot harder than being a setter for me. The timing is a lot different and you have to go to every shot. You have to be fast and it’s tiring, but I like playing middle more.”

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