While middle blockers often serve as a healthy source of sheer power, Tuscarora’s Caleigh Bernota sprinkles in a certain element to her game that goes beyond brute force.
“When she goes up there, she has the ability to look where the [open] space is, and it makes a difference in the attack,” Tuscarora coach Ricardo Vera said of Bernota, who collected eight kills Tuesday in the Titans’ 25-15, 25-6, 25-18 home victory over Damascus.
So while Bernota took her fair share of big swings from the middle against the Hornets, she also varied her attack with some well-placed tips and floating shots. All the while, she made just one attack error, highlighting a strong display of hitting accuracy from the Titans (3-0), who made just eight attack errors overall. Also, providing a strong defensive presence at the net with four blocks, Bernota showed off the much-improved version of her former self.
“Last year I was hitting, but I wasn’t hitting super consistently,” Bernota said. “I did a ton of repetition over the summer, and I played beach volleyball, and that helped me a lot with my swing and really hitting the ball down.”
And her participation in beach volleyball for the past three years, along with an in improved vertical leap, also plays a role in Bernota’s ability to survey the court and vary her attack when the situation calls for it.
“Since beach volleyball is only doubles, it makes me much more versatile,” Bernota said.
Bernota’s emergence along with that of others on the team, such as Anjoli O’Brien and Tiffany Shell, makes for a much more versatile attack that can take pressure off top hitter Julia Slivka, a junior who recorded a team-high nine kills, three aces and four digs against Damascus. O’Brien and Shell each had four kills.
For all of the Titans, Bernota said, hitting accuracy has become a point of emphasis throughout the season.
“We definitely improved a lot because we do a lot of hitting drills in practice, and since we had a lot of hitting errors last year, we really wanted to work on consistency and making sure we did get them in because that’s something we can control,” she said.
Vera said libero Chelsea Tyler’s strong passing out of the back row — she had a team-high eight digs — also factors into that clean hitting. That makes the job of setting that much easier for Gianni Blundell, who has been a model of consistency along with Slivka.
“I love how she’s so energetic, and she adapts very well,” Bernota said of Blundell, who finished with 27 assists, three kills and three aces. “So if someone needs a set differently, she’ll change it, and it’ll be perfect.”