MARIETTA — It is never easy for a freshman to be a full-time setter on a team of mostly upperclassmen.
That is the predicament Lassiter freshman Rebecca Watkins is in.
Watkins was called on to run Lassiter’s offense when expected starting setter Katie Bochniak broke her foot during the summer. Then, last year’s setter, Lily Kitchens, injured her shoulder and it affected her setting, so she moved to defensive specialist.
Lucky for Lassiter, the 6-foot-1 Watkins started putting emphasis on setting during the summer when Bochniak — also her teammate with the TK Volleyball club — got hurt.
Though Watkins has played primarily as a outside hitter or middle blocker since entering the Lassiter program her fifth-grade season, the challenge of setting suited her personality. She always enjoys being in the action.
“I love touching the ball all the time and helping my team whenever I can,” Watkins said. “I love being busy. I hate it when I’m not touching the ball. That’s why I love setting. I’m always there and I’m always in the moment with my team.”
The experienced Lassiter team welcomed Watkins as its new offensive floor leader. She and her fellow Lady Trojans are 14-2 overall and 3-1 in Region 4AAAAAAA play.
Having grown up playing club and beach volleyball, Watkins can do a lot more than just set the ball for Lassiter. She has 104 digs, 61 kills, 30 aces and 30 blocks this season, to go with her 387 assists.
One obstacle Watkins has faced in her new position is gaining the respect of her older teammates. Having grown up playing with and against older players has helped with the transition, though, and having already known half of her future teammates was another bonus.
“Maturity wise, she’s off the charts as a freshman,” Lassiter coach Greg Hodge said. “You don’t see the nervousness, and I think it helped us that she started setting at the club level in June and early July. When we came into the season, it wasn’t a shock that we asked her to start setting. She accepted the role and took on.
The new role that Watkins has taken on has not been without its speed bumps.
One major bump was a five-set loss to region rival Roswell on Aug. 20, after Lassiter had taken a two-set lead. The Lady Trojans stopped playing to their potential and also started getting frustrated, which hurt both their focus and communication.
In the end, Lassiter paid the price by falling 17-25, 18-25, 27-25, 25-23, 15-11.
“We were mad at each other instead of focusing on being mad at Roswell,” Watkins said. “We beat ourselves because we weren’t focusing on each other. We were selfish.”
Watkins also remembered the long team meeting the following day, with everyone given a chance to talk about how to better handle themselves and staying calm during five-set matches.
It turned out to benefit Lassiter in the long run.
Two weeks ago, the Lady Trojans could have easily given up when it trailed Etowah by two sets in its region match at Lassiter, with four-time defending state champion Walton yet to come on the schedule.
This time, it was Lassiter which found a way to persevere.
The more Watkins continued to set the ball, the more comfortable she got at communicating and encouraging teammates. One of her favorite sayings is, “Oh, my gosh, you’re so good,” when a teammate puts the ball down. And when opponents are outplaying the Lady Trojans, she often says to her hitters that she is “going to set you this, and I want you to do that.”
Those remarks came in handy while Lassiter was digging its way out of a deep hole against Etowah before winning 22-25, 19-15, 25-15, 25-22, 16-14. And when Lassiter sealed the win on an hitting error, she remembers the team “going crazy.”
Watkins said the team listened to one another in the Etowah match. She also came up with new words of encouragement on the court, such as, “Remember the Etowah match and how we won that and came back,” and, “We can come back from anything.”
"She is such an energetic person on the court, which we would all love to have," senior middle hitter Claire Parsons said. "When she sets the ball and then we get a kill, you can feel the energy flowing from her."
Now, Watkins is a week away from playing powerhouse Walton for the first time. With the benefit of the match being at home, she appears stoked for the opportunity.
“It’s going to be a great match. I know half that Walton team,” Watkins said. “We have a team full of seniors, and they want to win against Walton so bad. I feel that will drive us to do better.”