Left-handed pitchers hang on into old age because of their rare spin on throwing a baseball. Left-handed batters start the race to first base with a two-step advantage over the rest.
In volleyball, left-handed setters inspire the same sort of admiration and respect. Roughly 11 percent of the population is left-handed, and the really lucky ones can set a volleyball.
Wichita State opens the weekend against last-place Bradley tonight. It is expected to be a warmup for Saturday's match against No. 22 Northern Iowa and lefty setter Bre Payton. She is fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference in hitting percentage at .324 with 189 kills. She is also third in assists (10.62 a set).
"Bre Payton is definitely the trickiest setter we've faced all season," WSU middle Katie Niggemeyer said. "She's very aggressive and super athletic. You have no idea what she's going to do."
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WSU fans are used to watching their sophomore setter, Mary Elizabeth Hooper, who is also a scorer. Payton's left hand allows her to make plays Hooper can't. Setters normally face left on the court, in order to feed their strongest hitter. A right-handed setter must wait for the ball to cross her body before attacking. A lefty is in a better position to attack with more variety and more power.
"The lefties have a couple more throws," WSU coach Chris Lamb said. "The right-handed setters are trying to dump. The lefties can dump, throw and spike."
That puts pressure on all of WSU's defenders. Payton will likely occupy a middle at all times, leaving some one-on-one matchups for her hitters. WSU's back row must fill in the gaps.
"The back row is really going to have to step it up, because the front row needs to help out a lot on her," Niggemeyer said.
The Shockers held Payton to eight kills and a .185 attack percentage in their first meeting. The Panthers hit .221 as a team in a 3-2 victory. UNI leads the MVC with a .272 hitting percentage.
UNI is on a 22-match win streak. WSU is 6-0 since losing to the Panthers and up to No. 20 in the NCAA's RPI. WSU shook off a 3-3 stretch with improvement from Niggemeyer and Sarah McGee in the middle and Kim Wadsworth.
"We're getting healthier, and we're getting some consistency," Lamb said.