The Art of the Athlete

By Caitlin Graveson

Sports skills are often referred to as a "science" since excellence requires precise calibrations of motion in space. While this may be true, the comparison overlooks the creativity and finesse behind mastering skills.

The Art of … the Attack

Sophomore middle blocker Gabby Jolly had a breakout season for Gaels’ volleyball. She was named to the West Coast Conference First Team. She led the Gaels in hitting percentage with .327.

Jolly explained that the attack is complicated."It looks like we are just going up to hit, but it’s all very technical." The four-step approach is a slow-to-fast motion. The first two steps are slow, the first a directional step and the second a timing step. The last two steps are about power and explosiveness.

The fundamentals of the attack are essential, but Jolly notes that reacting to the defense is also important to the art. "It is easy to attack when no one is in front of you. But when you incorporate the block — when someone is in your face — it doesn’t come down to skills. It’s about what you are doing, where you want to put the ball and where the defense is."

Jolly started out as a basketball player, but as a sophomore in high school decided to focus on volleyball competitively. Since coming to Saint Mary’s she says she has continued to develop more shots and has gotten better to reacting to the defense. "I have gotten better at figuring out when it’s appropriate to swing away and when to tip. The best part is knowing what to do in certain situations."

The Art of … Rowing

Every year Saint Mary’s women’s crew team welcomes girls who have no rowing experience and works to teach them the art of rowing. Head coach Nicole Younts knows that it is a steep learning curve.

Most people think rowing requires arm strength, but the motion actually begins in the legs. "It is a leg sport — that’s probably the most misunderstood thing. The seats slide and it’s a squat-type movement, which starts with the legs. The legs drive the stroke," Younts said.

Rowers begin in a "full compression," meaning they are in a tuck position. The stroke begins by driving the legs, and the rower’s core stabilizes the stroke.

"When you are really good at it, it feels like you are suspending your body weight," Younts said.The stroke ends with moving the oars. Rowing is a fitness sport, requiring an athlete to be in top shape.

To add to the complexity, eight rowers must perform in sync. The catch, the moment the blade enters the water, must occur at exactly the same time for all the rowers in a boat. "You have to put the blade in the water at a specific time, at a specific place, at a specific depth. This moment in time, the catch, is something Olympians still work on to get everything perfect," said Younts.

Younts knows her novices are making progress when they move smoothly together. "When you are rowing well, it looks really, really good," she said.


The Art of … the Three-Pointer

Senior guard Mickey McConnell shoots 46.8 percent for his career from behind the three-point line. Last season, he led the nation, making 51 percent of his three-point attempts and is having another great year behind the arc, shooting 46.3 percent.

For McConnell, the art of the three-pointer is mental. "The three point line can mess with you mentally. You just have to try to think of it as any regular shot, and over time you will develop a natural feel," he said, also noting that confidence is a key factor. "When you make your first shot in a game, it raises your confidence level, and success in the past can help your mindset."

Not only does it take confidence and a natural shot, for McConnell, a high percentage requires a deeper understanding of the game. It’s better to take a longer shot that is open than a closer shot that is defended, he says. "There are good shooters who have bad percentages because they shoot tough shots. My main focus is to get a good shot."