RICHMOND, Va. – VCU Volleyball Coach Jody Rogers talks fast and runs her offense even faster. But in short order, she’s winning players over with both.
Count sophomore outside hitter Romana Kriskova among the converts. The athletic, 6-foot-3 Kriskova is averaging 4.86 kills per set this season, which ranks seventh nationally, and is hitting .284. At this pace, Kriskova is mounting a serious challenge to Ludmila Francescatto’s school records of 4.46 kills per set and 549 total kills, set in 2006. Behind its offensive hammer, VCU is off to a 10-4 start as Atlantic 10 Conference play looms.
Kriskova was already a good player. She averaged 2.39 kills per set and was named to the A-10’s All-Rookie Team as a freshman, but this year, she’s been on another level.
The Rams’ new offensive direction appears to be serving Kriskova well, but the Bratislava, Slovakia native’s breakout season hasn’t come without trepidation. Kriskova changed positions this summer, from right side hitter to outside hitter, and is playing in a system unlike any other in her volleyball career. Kriskova had been accustomed to offenses popular in Europe and much of NCAA volleyball that use high-arching sets.
But Rogers prefers the offense that helped her guide the University of Indianapolis to six straight NCAA Tournaments, as well as a Final Four appearance last season. Rogers’ system focuses on quick, precise passing and shorter sets in order to beat blockers to the net. Rogers admits she had to sell her new team on the system at first, especially Kriskova, her top returning hitter.
“When I told her I was going to run the fast offense, and we weren’t going to go above the pins, I think that’s when she actually looked at me and wanted to transfer,” Rogers joked.
The transition wasn’t without headaches, Kriskova says.
“This is much faster than we played last year and also [faster] than I have ever played,” Kriskova said.
“The first balls we tried were really bad. I remember the first week, maybe two weeks, I was struggling to hit the ball because I didn’t know how to get there and how to get to the set. I was really struggling with it.”
Note to opposing blockers: She’s figured out how to get to those sets.
In addition to her ability to put away a ball, Kriskova is also an accomplished blocker and server and ranks fifth nationally in points per set. While Kriskova has undeniably seen more sets this season, she’s been able to capitalize on those additional opportunities. Her hitting percentage is up nearly 70 points (.215 to .284), despite averaging four more attempts per set. On Sept. 14 in VCU’s win at Tennessee, Kriskova recorded 28 kills, the most by a VCU player since 2007. Her 33.5 points in that match are the most by a Ram in more than a decade.
While having an established, versatile setter in Cecilia Aragao has been critical, another reason Kriskova has handled the transition so well, Rogers says, is because of her improved fitness. The coach says Kriskova is about 10 pounds lighter this season and also decreased her body fat content.
Kriskova says she spent the summer in Slovakia playing beach volleyball, but believes it’s Rogers’ high-intensity practices and extra conditioning work that have helped her get slimmer and quicker.
“We have to be conditioned and prepared to play this offense because it’s not easy to play,” Kriskova says.
Rogers was so impressed with Kriskova’s play and straightforward attitude she named her a captain, an unusual honor for a sophomore.
“She believes in what we’re doing here. I think that’s huge for her,” Rogers said. “She’s a fierce competitor. She hates to lose, and she wants to be challenged, not only on an individual basis but as a team in trying to get the goals and trying to get to the NCAAs. She understands the level you need to be at to get to the NCAA Tournament.”
Although Kriskova has had barely half a season to adjust, Rogers says her star hitter, like most things the Rams are doing these days, is on the fast track.
“She’s an All-America-level player,” Rogers said. “And I think she could do special things here.”