Wisconsin sophomore Courtney Thomas was considered one of the top volleyball recruits in the 2011 class by college coaches around the nation. She was recruited by Wisconsin coach Pete Waite as a setter, and after a year of an unfamiliar job, Thomas is finally back at her natural position this season.
Last season as a freshman, Thomas split time as a setter and an outside hitter for the Badgers as they ran a two-setter system known as a 6-2. Waite said despite recruiting her as a setter, her athleticism made hitting come natural.
“It was just a bonus that she was such a good attacker,” Waite said. “There are not that many in the country that can do both as well as she can. She’s very athletic and has an attacker’s mind set.”
In 2011, Thomas averaged 1.96 kills per set with a hitting percentage of .225. She also averaged 5.63 assists per set, solid numbers for someone playing two positions. The hardest part about playing two positions is the different mindset involved in being both a setter and a hitter.
“A setter is more like a point guard in basketball,” Wisconsin assistant coach Dan Pawlikowski said. “They’re the distributor. Courtney has to get our hitters in the best position to score.”
Upon senior setter Janelle Gabrielsen’s graduation after last season, Wisconsin switched back to a 5-1 system this season in which there is only one setter. This meant Thomas was then back to being a full time setter this season, something she hadn’t done since high school.
The move made sense for the Badgers, who have a surplus of young hitters on their team. Wisconsin has seven hitters on the roster who have made significant contributions for the team this season, three of which are sophomores like Thomas. Despite the move making a lot of sense, it still was a big change for Thomas.
“When I was a hitter, I didn’t have to worry much about the other side of the net,” Thomas said. “I think just knowing the other side of the net and how I should attack them with my hitters is what I’ve been trying to focus on this year a lot more.”
The improvement in Thomas has been very noticeable this season. While her kills are down to 1.02 per set, Thomas averages 10.60 assists per set this season, which ranks 6th in the Big Ten. Thomas also moved into 10th all time on the Badgers’ career assists list with 1,348. She also currently ranks 8th in all-time assists per set in Wisconsin history with 7.41, a number that should climb with her change to being a full-time setter.
Senior middle blocker Alexis Mitchell said other players are improving as well because of Thomas becoming more comfortable as the setter.
“Courtney and I have a great relationship on and off the court,” Mitchell said. “It really helps out on the court when we’re talking and communicating. She’s really responsive and gets the ball where I need it [as a hitter].”
Thomas has recorded nine double-doubles this season, two of which came last weekend against Michigan State and Michigan. She has recorded 25 double-doubles in her career and her nine this season leads all Badger players. Thomas also put up a career high 57 assists in the match against Illinois Sept. 23. She reached the 1,000 assist mark this season in the Georgia Southern Invitational in September against Georgia Southern.
Thomas is considered one of the best all-around setters in the conference, and with good reason. Thomas ranks third on the team in digs per set at 2.66. She also ranks third on the Badgers in blocks per set at 0.86. She needs only five more kills to reach the 300 kill mark for her career as well as only 25 more digs to reach 500 career digs.
Even though the position switch was a big transition, Thomas said she was perfectly fine with it.
“Obviously I loved hitting, but I’m a team player,” Thomas said. “I do what I can for the team. If I don’t get the credit, as long as we win, I don’t care.”