In volleyball, they play the outside game

Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe
Newton North outside hitter Miska Legatova hits during a home match against Natick Sept. 18.
Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe
The team’s other go-to outside hitter, Julia Lanfear, celebrates a play against Natick.

The job of an outside hitter in volleyball is far-reaching. With many potential variables to each rally, the outside essentially has to be a step ahead of the play. Once the ball arrives over the net, the hitter must start surveying the opposition while awaiting the set from a teammate.

And when that feed comes, the outside wants to step up to it with speed and try to kill it — and score.

Things rarely go quite so smoothly on the court, though.


“Being an outside hitter,” said Newton North’s Miska Legatova, “you have to be able to be everything. You have to be able to hit out of any spot, you have to be able to pass, set, and hit anything.”

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Newton North is fortunate to have a wealth of talented outside hitters, with Legatova and senior classmate Julia Lanfear serving as the go-to players in that role so far this season.

Because of the requirements of the position, the best ones are multifaceted athletes, with the ability to set, dig, and kill the ball with precision. Strength is essential, especially in the lower body, so the hitter can jump high above the net.

And there’s one other requirement: a high volleyball IQ.

Having a good knowledge of the game and ability to read it as it unfolds can help the hitter better forecast what’s coming next in action that can get downright tumultuous. And with the good IQ comes good chemistry. An outside hitter who knows what to expect from teammates and meshes well with everyone on the court is a valuable addition.


“Outside hitters are one of the positions that has the biggest effect on a game,’’ said Lanfear. “You get the most sets, you pass a lot, so you have to be really active. It’s always important to know where everyone is on the court, and that comes with both volleyball IQ and team chemistry.”

Over at Newton South, outside hitter Ella Kim has a unique perspective on the position given her background in the sport. At 5-foot-11, she was initially one of the tallest girls when she started playing. As a result she played in the middle, and eventually on the right side, before settling into the outside hitter role.

“The middle focuses more on just killing the ball, blocking, and jumping high,” said Kim. “They’re usually given more perfect sets than an outside is, but they’re also given . . . [fewer] sets, so they have more of a limited job.”

Since the outside hitters are so frequently called upon to deliver a kill, they are like shooters in basketball: When things aren’t falling, there has to be a way to move on and turn the page to find success. If a player gets too bogged down over previous mistakes, it could have long-term ramifications as the game progresses.

And while each hitter has unique ways of moving on, coaches like Newton South’s Todd Elwell have to make sure each athlete knows the alternatives to trying to attack a bad ball.


“You’ve got to hit the reset button real quick. You’re going to get a lot of balls, and unfortunately your efficiencies as an outside hitter, you might be productive 30 percent of the time,” said Elwell. “But ultimately you are going to fail, and it’s about reminding the players if you don’t have what you want in an attack, it is sometimes better to give the other team the ball in an appropriate spot.”

Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe
Lanfear and Legatova are a powerful outside pair for Newton North.

Lanfear, the Newton North player, gets that notion.

“I just try to forget about” errors, she said, “and try to take every play as a new play, and imagine I start every point at 0-0, and I try to attack every single point.”

With such a wide range of responsibilities, it is challenging, if not impossible, to identify the most important part of the job. In Legatova’s opinion, for example, explosiveness and readiness are key.

Hopkinton’s Amanda Gilbert ticked off several other vital qualities.

“Being able to see the other side of the court and seeing what you have to go against” is one of the most important things, said Gilbert. “You have to know how to work your way around them, you have to be able to find the holes in the court in order to be successful. It’s easier to be successful when I have great defensive players in my back row getting all the passes up and being able to put it in the perfect spot every time.”

“I think the other important part,’’ she continued, “is being able to adjust to different situations and making sure to keep the ball and play and be smart, and making sure you can make adjustments when needed.”

Logan Mullen can be reached at logan.mullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ByLoganMullen.