By Jerry Hill
Courtesy of Baylor Athletics
After breaking into the school’s career top 10 list for blocks in just two years, Anna Breyfogle seems like the least likely candidate to move from the middle blocker position that she’s made her own.
But that’s exactly what the junior from Buda, Texas, has done, switching to what volleyball coach Jim Barnes describes as a "hybrid" rightside hitter spot that keeps Breyfogle in the match rather than rotating out on every third change.
"There’s not many players in the country that can play this position," Barnes said. "She’s lined up as a rightside player so that she can play all the way around, but she blocks in the middle like she’s always done when she’s in the front row. And then when she’s in the back row, she’s able to pass, she hits the ball from back there and she’s playing great defense. Rather than just having a defensive specialist back there, she can do what the defensive specialist does and attack. She had two or three kills the other night from the back row. Those are the added bonuses we get by keeping her in there."
In baseball terms, it makes Breyfogle a "five-tool player," Barnes said. It’s like asking the football team’s leading receiver to spend part of the game as a blocking fullback.
But ask Breyfogle, and she’ll just shrug her shoulders and say it’s not that big a deal.
"I’m still playing middle blocker on the front row. It’s just a little bit more confusing," said the 6-foot junior, who’s added to her 327 career blocks with a team-high 14 through the first three matches this year. "I start in the front row, and then as I rotate I just serve and then play the back row. That’s pretty much the way it would be if I was playing rightside. But in the front, we do some weird things."
With the versatility to play the front or back row in the Bears’ lineup, Breyfogle also ranks second in kills (25) and digs (30), has a team-high eight service aces and is hitting .353 in helping the team get off to a 3-0 start going into this weekend’s Baylor Classic at the Ferrell Center.
"You know what, she’s got great hands," said Barnes, who disputes Breyfogle’s assessment that her hands are a weakness. "When Taylor (Barnes) digs the ball, she’s our secondary setter along with Ashley Byrd. So that just shows you that she does have a setting part within the team as well. She’s got real strong hands and sets a good ball. When she plays beach (volleyball) later on, she’s going to be a good beach player, because you have to be able to set. And she can do that."
In a season-opening 3-0 sweep of SMU at last weekend’s Baylor Invitational, Breyfogle had a career-high 16 digs – six more than her previous best. But again, Breyfogle just laughs it off as luck or just being in the wrong place at the right time.
"I was telling somebody that I feel like I had a lot of digs that game because I was running around maybe stealing from other people," she said. "It was like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ That’s just something where I really need to be into the game and focus more on (digs). I love playing the back row, and I’m so excited that I am now. I’m going to try to do my very best to keep it there."
Breyfogle and the Bears are in for a busy weekend, playing Weber State and San Diego State on Friday and then coming back to play UT-San Antonio and Rice on Saturday in the five-team Baylor Classic.
"I love playing tournaments at home," Breyfogle said, "because our fans have been supporting us so much lately. The freshmen once again are going to see what Baylor volleyball’s really about."
With freshman middle blocker Briana Tolbert starting in the front row and rookies Allison King and Jordan Rice on the back row, it’s clear that the newcomers are making a huge impact and giving the Bears the depth they’ve never had.
"As a whole, I think our newcomers are a great group of girls on the court and off," Breyfogle said. "I really enjoy being around all of them off the court. It’s weird. My freshman year, I remember being kind of scared of the upperclassmen. There was a definite struggle of, ‘Oh, don’t wanna go over there. Wanna stay over here.’ But I feel like this year we’ve meshed together really well. And when Taylor hurt her ankle the other night, we were able to quickly get another setter in there who could do the job just fine."