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Maldonado, Beick get top SOC honor

For the second year in a row, a setter has loomed large when Southern Oregon Conference volleyball coaches chose their player of the year.

Setters aren't those lanky cannon-armed leapers, pounding opponents into submission. They're often overlooked in a crowd. But when the sets aren't on target, the hammers are more likely to hit thumbs than ball.

So it was only logical for North Medford senior setter Kaci Maldonado to earn player of the year honors after the Black Tornado won 14 straight SOC matches, losing just two games in the process.

When you go back through our league matches, Kaci always did a good job of knowing who were our best hitters in any given set we were in, North Medford coach Ron Beick said. You look at our stats and everyone hit well and they all had a fair number of attempts. That balance put our team where it is.

Maldonado was joined by senior middle blocker Kendra Mitchell and senior outside hitters Kara Hwang and Jill Carrigan on the first team. Beick earned coach of the year honors.

Rounding out the first team were: Ashland's right-side hitter Heidi Lawrence, defensive specialist Megan Beugli and setter Molly Grossman; Roseburg's defensive specialist Randi Slone, outside hitters Megan Morley and Shannon Burmeister; and Klamath Union middle blocker Kaylene Munson.

It was Maldonado's ability to direct an offense that allowed the Tornado to breeze through conference unbeaten for the first time since 1995.

Two things stand out to Beick: Her ability to make bad passes into hittable sets and her athleticism at the net.

She's one of the best high school setters I've seen when there are tight passes to the net or if there is an overpass, Beick says. She can beat the block, make the save and make the transition to where she sets the ball where it's needed.

Maldonado grew up playing soccer then left that behind for basketball, softball and volleyball. her junior year, she was focused on helping the Black Tornado go for a state tournament trophy.

One of our main goals was to go undefeated in the conference and after we saw all the teams once, we knew we could do it, Maldonado said. We have a lot of leadership on this team. We have four seniors on the floor almost all of the time (no matter the rotation) and each of us brings different type of leadership.

Maldonado learned her craft, in part, from observing older players.

I watched (former North setter) Mandy Horn my freshman and sophomore years and I thought she was a good leader on the court, Maldonado says. And I watched Chelsea Morgan (last year's player of the year from Ashland) and they were very successful. I saw how much they could influence a team.

Maldonado has had similar influence on her North teammates.

She's real confident, Beick says. Setters can't get up and down. They've got to keep making hitters feel they're confident in them, even if a hitter doesn't make the play. They have to tell the hitter, they?ll get the next ball or keep them in the game.

Maldonado touches as many as 1,000 balls during daily doubles, Beick says, and between 500-800 most practices. As a result, much of what she does during a match is second nature.

She works extremely hard under a lot of pressure in practice, Beick says. The fact she's working that hard carries over to the emotional side. We know she will get the job done under the stress of a tournament, getting the ball to the right person at the right time.

She's concentrating on our hitters and what block the other team is setting, analyzing point to point and making the appropriate adjustments.

Reach reporter at 776-4483, or e-mail