Riley Sents shows leadership in new role for Missouri volleyball

Former teammate Alexa Ethridge served as a role model who helped Sents prepare for her job as the team’s libero.

Riley Sents stood patiently on the sideline watching, listening and analyzing the movement of the back row. It was all she could do during the 2015 and 2016 campaigns, when she sat behind stellar libero Alexa Ethridge, who commanded the court for Missouri volleyball.

Sents, now a redshirt sophomore, knew that if she observed Ethridge’s technique and worked hard enough, she could someday fill Ethridge’s shoes as a dominant passer and leader on the court.

That’s exactly what she has done this year. Through all 17 games played so far this season, it seems that Sents’ time spent watching from the sidelines is starting to pay off.

“I was really excited about having the opportunity to be the libero once Alexa graduated,” Sents said. “It has always been a goal of mine.”

Sents’ journey to earning the position started in the offseason. She trained to perfect her passing from every location on the court, repeating challenging drills with the help of her teammates.

“We hit at one another to help practice,” Sents said. “It helps simulate what we see in games.”

Missouri’s other defensive specialist, sophomore Andie Hanus, sustained a left knee injury during the 2016 season and had to have surgery during the offseason. As a result, Sents received heavy one-on-one attention from coaches, and improvement followed.

“I passed a lot of balls and got lots of reps and that really helped me get better,” Sents said.

Even though Sents received physical training and instruction during those few months, it was the help of shadowing Ethridge for the past two seasons that gave her confidence to take over the new role.

“Alexa was an amazing role model to me. She gave heart day in and day out and really controlled the back row. I learned how to have a competitive mindset at all times from Alexa,” Sents said. “She always wanted to win, and I saw that in her when she played.”

After being given a few chances to play alongside Ethridge in the back row during the 2016 season, Sents felt she could handle the role to the best of her ability.

“I did not really think about the pressures this position would bring,” Sents said. “Instead, I thought more about the excitement of having the opportunity to do this for the team.”

Before big matches, Sents prepares herself by practicing and watching her competition on film, making sure she can play the best possible defense against the opponents’ tenacious hitters.

Though she carries tremendous amounts of pressure to lead the back row, Sents said she could not compete without the help of her fellow defensive players.

“There is a lot of chemistry on the back row, both on and off the court, and I think that helps a lot,” Sents said. “We look to each other in tough situations. The biggest thing is we trust and work together.”

As an underclassman already taking part in a leadership role for the program, Sents has the potential to lead the back row for the next two years and become a role model to others.

“We have lots of room to grow and make adjustments; there is still an entire season ahead of us,” Sents said. “I’m really excited to play this part for the team. There is a lot of team chemistry this year and I am excited to see where this season takes me.”

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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