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Heidelberg senior setter Maddie Havenar is often a blur on the volleyball court, praised by her coach for her speed and athleticism.

Heidelberg senior setter Maddie Havenar is often a blur on the volleyball court, praised by her coach for her speed and athleticism. (Rusty Bryan / S&S)

HEIDELBERG, Germany — Don’t call Heidelberg senior setter Maddie Havenar a beginner just because she didn’t play volleyball last year. It was only a break in service.

“I played volleyball a little bit my sophomore year,” Havenar, who skipped her junior season, said prior to Tuesday’s practice.

“I was a so-so setter. This year, a lot of the girls I played with said they needed a setter, so I said, ‘OK, I’ll try to set for you.’ ”

She did more than try. To her astonishment, she ended up as the team’s starting setter.

“I was surprised to be a starter,” said Havenar, an 18-year-old soccer player who hopes to play that sport in college next year. “Our other setters are really good. I thought [the coaches] would have me on the back row digging.”

Not this year. Heidelberg volunteer coach Jeralyn White, a former NCAA Division I performer at West Point, saw more than just back-row grit and athleticism in her Havenar.

“I targeted her as a setter very, very quickly,” White said. “Her speed and coordination stood out. She hustles.”

White added that Havenar quickly mastered the intricacies of her position.

“She’s a very good back-setter,” White said of the setter’s technique of passing the ball to a hitter while facing the opposite direction — a move that baffles the layman. “It all comes naturally to her.”

That she has been playing soccer since she was 7 hasn’t hurt Havenar’s volleyball skills.

“I thought I was fast, and I thought I can think fast on my feet,” she said. “The hard part of volleyball is making plays.”

Havenar said that it’s taken time for her to become acquainted with the strengths and preferences of her teammates.

“Some people like the set back from the net,” she said, “and some like it right on the net. It also takes a while to learn how high each hitter wants the ball.”

If Tuesday’s practice was any indication, Havenar has learned her lessons quickly. Nearly every Havenar set during drills drew a “good set” comment from White.

Heidelberg’s young squad is coming off a straight-sets loss to defending Division I champion Ramstein, but rather than licking their wounds, the Lady Lions are relishing their growth as a team.

“I was ecstatic,” Havenar said jarringly of the 9-25, 26-28, 19-25 defeat. Then she explained: “It didn’t feel like we lost. It was our own mistakes. If we had cut back on them, we’d have won.”

Win or lose, Havenar thinks her return to volleyball will pay dividends when soccer season rolls around next spring.

“Doing our little drills makes me quicker on the soccer field,” she said. “It also keeps me in shape. I’m really, really happy with volleyball.”

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