By: Ryan Tse
When you talk to Maicee Sorensen and Hailey Kranics, you quickly get a sense of their easygoing, friendly personalities. The two middle blockers on the women’s volleyball team describe each other as amiable and outgoing off the court.
On the court, the two blockers alternate in the rotation so that one is always in the front row, giving McMaster a formidable blocking presence and a more than adequate offensive option at all times.
Sorensen is the more experienced player, already in her fifth year at Mac. Originally from Hamilton, Sorensen started playing club volleyball in Grade 10 as a middle before becoming acquainted with Mac’s head coach Tim Louks and deciding that McMaster was right for her. She has excelled in the middle position over the past five years, something she attributes to hard work and dedication every offseason.
“I think the most important thing individually is to watch a lot of video on professional teams and yourself as well,” Sorensen said. “Just because we are not in season does not mean you cannot be getting better. I try my best to commit my summers to volleyball and not just during the school year. I also try my best to watch a lot of video these past few years on people who are better than me at my position.”
Kranics is relatively young compared to Sorensen, as this is only her second year in maroon. Her volleyball experience is also quite short — she only began playing club volleyball in Grade 11, with her primary focus being soccer before then. It was a hard decision for her to switch sports at such a late age, but she has no regrets about her decision.
“I think I fit better in the volleyball world just with my body type and what I like to do,” Kranics said. “I did not like running in soccer [laughing]. It was a big decision to drop something I had been doing for such a long time and risk getting into this sport — but I’m happy about it.”
“It definitely suits her,” Sorensen added.
Despite Kranics’ inexperience, she has a love for the game that has allowed her to learn quickly. She did not start any games last year for the team, but instead spent the year learning and watching.
“Last year, I was just a sponge,” Kranics said. “I did not get any playing time, so it was just about watching Maicee and Alicia Jack as middles that were three years older than me. I took everything they were doing and tried to work through it and apply it to my own game.”
Sorensen has been impressed with how fast Kranics has progressed so far.
“It’s honestly crazy,” Sorensen said. “She has improved immensely. All first years are very fresh to the game, but Hailey did start volleyball later. Coming to university, it’s scary at first, but she has done a really good job. She has worked really hard just to behave like a sponge and just take everything in that she can. That’s the best part of her as an athlete.”
“All athletes have to be able to do that,” Sorensen added. “There are people out there that are better than you, and if you don’t watch, you’re not going to get better.”
In return, Kranics is appreciative of Sorensen’s role as a veteran on the team.
“She’s very dedicated, determined and supportive — very supportive of everyone,” Kranics said. “Everyone on the team is a good friend of Maicee’s.”
As the two main middle blockers, Kranics and Sorensen work together during games. Even though they are not on the bench at the same time because of the rotation scheme, they exchange strategy during timeouts and breaks in play.
In Kranics’ opinion, part of what makes the two blockers successful is that their styles of play complement each other.
“I can play a high game and she can play a fast game,” Kranics explained. “When I go on, the other team sees a totally different game from the middle, and when she goes on, it’s different as well, so I think we complement each other in that sense. It throws the other team off. We work together by working very differently.”
Regarding Kranics’ ability to play a “high” game, she is still trying to work out how to best use her tall frame to her advantage. Specifically, she says she is trying to become a more efficient blocker by controlling the height of her block in relation to the opposing hitter.
Sorensen is always trying to improve as well. Right now, she is focused on reading the other team’s setter and figuring out when to deploy different types of blocks.
The complimentary style of Sorensen and Kranics has helped McMaster enjoy another strong season. The team currently sits third overall in blocks per set, one indicator of the two players’ contributions, though Sorensen insists that blocks alone do not tell the whole story.
“If there happens to be a block, that’s great, but our main goal as a blocker is to take up space and to funnel the hitter into hitting somewhere they don’t want to hit,” Sorensen said. “If they are hitting right at one of our defenders because they cannot hit anywhere else, that’s what the blockers consider a good job. That’s one of the things we are getting better at this year.”
It is not just the middle blockers that are having a good year. The whole team has thrived, looking poised to repeat as Ontario University Athletics champions. To make that happen, Sorensen and Kranics will have to continue to work together to anchor the middle of the court.