Oct. 13, 2011
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
by Andrew Lang, Sports Department, The Bellingham Herald
James Suh and Nate Langstraat are the only two assistant coaches Western Washington volleyball coach Diane Flick lists on her roster, but if it were up to Flick, there's a strong chance she would place an assistant coaching asterisk next to setter Laurie Yearout's name.
Yearout may not have the striking capability of a powerful outside hitter or the leaping ability of a middle blocker, but Yearout serves a much more vital role for the Vikings.
As a fourth-year setter, Yearout is Flick's eyes, mouth, ears and mind on the floor.
"Well, you always want a captain and an assistant-coach-like player in a setter," Flick said in a phone interview. "Recruiting her, we knew she had all the intangibles of being a good floor leader. She's calm under pressure and always knows the game plan."
Flick has been searching for a way to create a direct line of communication with players during games, too, but the search might not be necessary anymore, given the floor presence Yearout creates.
"I just wish we could put one of those football helmets on her, so we could always communicate," Flick said jokingly. "Setters are kind of like the hub of the offense."
Those unaware of volleyball tactics often see a repetitive pass, set, hit routine play out Thursday and Saturday nights at Carver Gym. But, when she not setting balls to outside hitters, Yearout is constantly thinking about the tactical side of volleyball - who's been hitting well, who has the best matchup, which defenders on the opposing team are struggling, etc.
"I really like the tactics that go into the (setter) position," Yearout said in a phone interview. "You really have to play through the game and try to run the offense like a quarterback's state of mind. You have to look at matchups and try to make your hitters look good."
For Yearout, a lot of her work takes place behind the scenes.
"A lot goes into (preparation), but it really depends," Yearout said. "James (Suh), Taylor (Dillard) and me watch film three times a week for 45 minutes at a time. As a team, we spend hours watching film, looking at other schools' defenders, how their blockers move and how we can move, ourselves. People sometimes don't understand we watch film to look at areas we can work on and we correct things."
Yearout is a redshirt junior, and although she didn't start last year, this season isn't her first year in a starting role as Western's setter.
As a redshirt freshman, Yearout played in all 99 sets the Vikings competed in and was selected as an honorable mention GNAC all-star. But after a strong year for Yearout, now graduated setter, Kari Rice received the nod from Flick to start last season.
Yearout and Flick both believe the break provided appropriate time for the junior setter to hone her skills, become better at her position and help her develop into the floor leader she is now.
"It helped because I definitely had the desire to get back out on the floor, and it wasn't a big thing because Kari and I had a very competitive relationship in the gym," Yearout said. "It made me a lot better and made me feel like I was getting better everyday playing against her."
In fact, it was during a practice last year that Yearout made a major breakthrough in her game.
While Yearout was taking reps setting the ball, Flick noticed a minor flaw that seems to have transcended her game to higher level.
"We were working on steady repetitions, and I looked at her and told her, 'It looks to me that you have one hand in front of your face. Keep your hands on either side of your eyes,'" said Flick, reflecting on the adjustment she made to Yearout's game. "It almost opened up her vision. That was a light bulb for her. It was a small change, but she definitely has much better control on her ball when she's setting now. She's a student of the game, and not only does she know tactics, but she knows what buttons to push to get each hitter going."
While Yearout's coaching ability and knowledge on the floor is enjoyed by Flick, it is the natural intangibles of Yearout that impresses Flick the most.
Yearout grew up surrounded by volleyball in a household where her mom coached the high school volleyball team and her dad coached the high school football team.
Flick believes the environment helped form Yearout's innate, unwavering demeanor.
"There's things you can coach and there's thing that people natural have from their 18 years growing up," Flick said. "She is so calm and never gets to high or too low. There isn't a lot I can't say to her, and I don't have to watch my words, because she always knows there is a bigger picture involved. I don't think she 's ever had a bad day at practice, because when she's working on volleyball, she's 100 percent dedicated in that moment."
In fact, Yearout reminds Flick of a former Western great setter - All-American Liz Bishop - who played at Western from 2000-2003 and earned Great Northwest Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors in 2002 and 2003.
"Once we learned Yearout had (the same intangibles) Bishop had, it was a no brainer for us (to add Yearout to WWU's roster)."