Syracuse turns to Abby Casiano, Dana Gardner after Marina Markova’s injury

first_imgSyracuse head coach Leonid Yelin thought he’d found the solution to his middle blocker problem when he moved freshman Marina Markova to a position she’d never played before.It happened after the Orange were out-blocked 12-8 in a 3-1 loss to Wake Forest on Oct. 4. After the move, Markova excelled, averaging 6.33 blocks per match as SU’s primary middle blocker. For three matches, it appeared that Syracuse’s middle blocking woes had been solved.But during a practice on the following Tuesday, Markova suffered a finger injury, likely ruling her out for the remainder of the season. Yelin needed to find another solution in the middle.This season, Syracuse (8-11, 5-7 Atlantic Coast) has struggled to replace the production of Amber Witherspoon and Santita Ebangwese. Last year, the Orange recorded 112.5 more blocks than their opponents. 19 games into this season, SU leads its opponents by just four blocks. Markova performed well in her time in the position, but her injury has led to multiple players trying to replace her production.“We were so happy, because we thought at least out of two (Witherspoon and Ebangwese) we got one (replaced), you know,” Yelin said of Markova’s position switch. “And unfortunately, it got so exciting, (Markova) started playing and it gave confidence to everyone else, but then we lost her.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textLast year, SU’s senior middle blocking duo, who Yelin called the best in the country then, were an important part of a Syracuse team that achieved its first NCAA tournament berth in program history. The only middle blocker who returned from last season is junior Dana Gardner, who was not featured last season. SU also added freshmen Abby Casiano and Izzy Plummer.Since returning from a hand injury against Pittsburgh on Oct. 11, Casiano has seen the most extensive action of the trio and been SU’s most productive middle blocker, averaging 0.83 blocks per set this season.“The shoes they have to fill in, it’s crazy,” Yelin said on Oct. 23. “They are working pretty hard, they’re trying, as it is now it is probably not enough, but I can’t complain.”Karleigh Merritt-Henry | Digital Design EditorSince Markova’s injury, Gardner has seen the biggest uptick in playing time, being featured in 21 of a possible 23 sets. Gardner has had her most productive stretch of the season in her last four starts, averaging 2.83 blocks in that span, compared to her season average of just 1.42 blocks per match. Along with Gardner, the Orange are also relying on Casiano to continue developing in order to fill the void left by last year’s middle blockers.“She has such a fire inside of her and it’s just so fun to watch her play because she loves it so much,” Gardner said of Casiano. “Over the summer, I quickly realized that’s who she was. I was just waiting for them (teammates) to get it for her and setting for her more often in the season, and once they did I was just like, ‘Here we go, she’s taking off, she’s flying.’”Witherspoon and Ebangwese’s ability to score opened up more one-on-one opportunities for Syracuse’s outside hitters. This season, it hasn’t been the case, with SU’s outside hitters constantly faced with double-teams. Against Louisville on Sunday, Casiano registered a career-high seven kills, which opened up enough attacking lanes for Polina Shemanova to break the Syracuse record for kills.“Polina (Shemanova) is number one in the ACC and eleventh in the country in kills per set,” Williams said on Oct. 23. “And she’s hitting against four hands every time, which I guarantee most people in the top-10 aren’t hitting against four hands every time.”With just three middle blockers, Yelin has contemplated moving junior outside hitter Yuliia Yastrub to middle blocker, a position she’s played on several occasions in the past for SU.Yelin decided against the move, though, because the trade-off between Yastrub’s ball-control abilities as an outside hitter, compared to what she could as a middle blocker, wasn’t worth making the switch full-time.For now, Yelin said he will stick with the middle blockers he has.“The experience, it’s unbelievable what they’re getting now,” Yelin said. “It’s going to pay off, it’s gonna pay off.” Comments Published on November 6, 2019 at 1:19 am Contact Alex: [email protected] | @alexhamer8 Facebook Twitter Google+last_img