Clement setting up Seoul for continued success
Seoul American junior setter Ashley Clement bumps the ball during practice Tuesday at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea. Clement came to SAHS as an outside hitter from Elizabethtown, Ky., but made the conversion to setter at coach Lori Rogers' request and has helped the Falcons start the season 6-0.
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Lori Rogers could not have been more worried as early workouts began last month.
The Seoul American second-year girls volleyball coach faced the huge task of replacing seven of 10 departed players, and worse, not having a proven veteran setter, a common denominator in the Falcons’ four Far East Division I Tournament Final Four finishes since 2007, including the 2010 title.
Fast forward to late September, after the conversion of Ashley Clement, a junior transfer who’d played outside hitter at Elizabethtown (Ky.) high school, to setter. The Falcons are unbeaten at 6-0, and Rogers insists that her Falcons “haven’t peaked yet.”
“She has knowledge of the game. She knows where she has to be,” Rogers said of Clement, adding that she’d approached Clement on the third day of preseason workouts, asking what she thought of the idea of setting.
“She has soft hands,” Rogers said. “I was looking to see who has the best hands, who could be trained to be a setter.”
Senior holdover Hannah Nelson, primarily a “libero” who served as backup to Tiffaney Mitchell last season, could have filled the role, “but if we did that, we would lose a lot on the back row,” Rogers said. “But I was ready to make that sacrifice if we could find a decent setter.”
For her part, Clement said she was “shocked” when Rogers approached her about the job. “I was giving it a go in preseason, just did my best, and she came up to me and asked if I wanted to set. I said, ‘Wow, I didn’t think I was that good,’ ” Clement said.
There were plenty of growing pains, coach and player said, the biggest one flip-flopping from the role of finisher to setting up the finishers.
“The whole perspective changed,” Clement said, adding that the most noticeable thing was pain in her wrists, hands and mostly her fingers, having to get used to the art of setting. Plenty of icing and taping fingers before matches became a regular thing.
“You don’t get that as a hitter,” she said.
Taking a weight ball, a volleyball version of a medicine ball, home to strengthen her hands has helped, she said.
There was also the task of making setting second-hand nature, instead of lining up to angle a spike from the outside. “I’m doing drills in practice and I’m out of place and I’m saying, ‘Oh, I forgot I’m supposed to be setting,’ ” Clement said. “It took a couple of days, but I got used to it.”
Finally, there was learning all the tendencies of the Falcons hitters, and they are all different. In one match, she had trouble connecting the right sets with the right hitters, but it’s been coming along, she said. “It’s definitely still a learning process.”
Others have noticed the process and say she’s making progress.
“She’s made the transition very well. She sets very well,” said Falcons boys coach Ben Pak. “You can see she’s played the game before.”
Clement and the Falcons opened the season at home against Daegu, winning in five sets with Clement tacking up 30 assists.
“She did her job,” Warriors coach Joanna Wyche said. “She did what was expected. She kept going in there and putting them (sets) up there.”
That she’s made the transition “gives her a new appreciation for the position,” Rogers said.
“I never knew how hard it was” before making the conversion, Clement said. “Setters make it look so easy. You don’t really know how hard that is until you do it.”
How far can the Falcons take their 6-0 run? Clement, for one, sees a Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference Five-Cities Division title as well as a deep run at a Far East D-I title in their sights.
“All the way,” she said. “We have every talent and aspect of the game. All the pieces are there. We just need to click.”