01.07.2020 - Vienna, Austria
Setting is one of the most beautiful skills in beach volleyball. Hitting the ball hard is really cool and nothing boosts morale like a stuff block, but the beauty of a perfect set going up and down or right and left at the net is nearly unparalleled. Furthermore, the way a team sets the ball oftentimes reflects the essence of its game and differentiates it from their competitors.
Even though they don’t score points with their sets (most of the times, at least), players take a lot of pride in being great setters (just try calling a double on them, ref!), which makes them spend hours and hours refining their craft in the skill.
The Beach Major Series has witnessed the rise of several phenomenal setters over the last years and here are the five, in alphabetical order, who really took the skill to another level.
Starting this list with someone else than Larissa França has proven just impossible. The Brazilian star has stood out in the setting game for nearly 15 years now as she won her first World Tour Best Setter award back in 2006. That was just the first of the ten of those trophies she would take home in her career, the most a player has won in a specific category at the World Tour – only four seasons had different winners. Since most opponents chose to target her partners with their serves early on her career, Larissa quickly understood she’d need to improve her setting game and she absolutely mastered it, becoming one of the references in the skills for the entire group of players competing at the World Tour. She’s also talented, crafty and courageous enough to dump on two with a lot of style, making of her the complete package when it comes to setting.
The Dutch school of beach volleyball is heavily predicated on skillful setting and World Tour veteran Marleen van Iersel is a strong example of it. The 32-year-old defender has played with three different partners in the Beach Major Series and if one thing remained consistent in her game regardless of who she was sharing the court with is her ability to set her partners up at the net. The skill proved particularly important in 2017, when Marleen paired with Mannon Flier, an indoor star who was just transitioning to the sand. A two-time Olympian, Marleen won the European Championship in 2014 with Madelein Meppelink and followed it up with her only World Tour Best Setter award, which was won in 2015. A vibrant player on the court, Marleen, the 2009 World Tour Most Improved Player, has nice setting hands and an unparalleled ability to turn subpar passes in hittable balls due to her willingness to chase balls around the court.
Melissa Humana-Paredes is the current holder of the World Tour Best Setter award, a recognition that was long coming her way. Since the Canadian first appeared at the Tour, in 2011, it was clear that her talent level would take her a long way. The first signs came in her first full season, 2014, when she became the Rookie of the Year. Melissa managed to steadily improve every aspect of her game in the last six years, but one area that got her attention was setting. Even though she has the privilege of setting to arguably one of the best and tallest players on Tour in Sarah Pavan, the Canadian doesn’t take it for granted and instead tries to maximize her team’s advantage by sweetening the ball as much as possible to her 1.96m-tall partner. She was awarded the Most Improved Player of the 2017 season, her first with Pavan, which was a preview of what the team would accomplish in 2019, when they won the World Championship.
Nina Betschart is one of the fastest-rising players in the World Tour. A two-time Under-21 world champion (2011 and 2012), Under-22 (2013 and 2015) and Under-20 (2013 and 2014) European champion in the first half of last decade, the Swiss is starting to scratch the surface of similar success at the professional level. To get there, she had to improve several aspects of her game and one of the areas that saw the most change was her setting ability. Nina has established herself as one of the most solid setters in the Beach Major Series because of her second-to-none ball control, which allows her to steadily place the ball at the same spot regardless of any other factors. At 24, the defender still has a lot of room for improvement, but the success of her partnership with Tanja Hüberli has followed her development as a player as the team went to win a silver medal at the 2018 European Championship and to appear at the semifinals of the 2019 World Championship.
It’s no surprise Summer Ross is the only blocker to make the list. Shorter players tend to be the most technically skilled in the game of beach volleyball, but Summer, born and bred within the American system, which is widely known for working extensively in the fundamentals of the game, leaves nothing to be desired in comparison to them. The blocker has showed early on her career how good she would be as in 2010, when she was just 17, she won both the Under-19 and Under-21 World Championships. One of the strengths of her game, which also stands out for her hitting efficiency and her solid presence at the net, is her setting ability. One of the few bigs in the World Tour who can comfortably handset all match long, Summer, now 27, has excelled in preparing the ball for her partners, especially Brooke Sweat and Sara Hughes, who have succeeded by her side over the last five years at the Beach Major Series.