Lions find early success with new setter

Sophomore setter Jayden Davila-McClary makes a play on the ball during the Lions Sept. 2 match against Northwood. Davila-McClary leads the 8-0 Lions with 323 assists.

The UNA volleyball team is riding a wave of momentum early in the 2016 season, sweeping through two tournaments to begin with an 8-0 record.

The success is due in large part to the experienced returners both in the defense and on the attack line, but there was one big hole to fill after the 2015 season: the setter position.

Coming into this season, the Lions were unsure who would replace senior Andrea De Leon at the setter spot, but it seems the team found the missing piece to the puzzle in sophomore transfer Jayden Davila-McClary.

“We thought that she had a lot of potential,” said UNA head coach Stephanie Radecki. “She’s athletic, she’s very quick and she’s very strong defensively. We were looking for someone else that could add to the competition we already had in that role to ensure we had a lot of assets.”

Davila-McClary has played in all 28 of UNA’s sets through the first eight games and leads the team with 323 assists. The sophomore is averaging 11.54 assists per set and has eight service aces to her credit.

Radecki said the setter competition between Davila-McClary, returning junior Abby Winkler and incoming freshman Emma Ellis was close, but the sophomore edged out the two toward the end of preseason.

“All three of them have such a different skill set and bring a lot to the table,” Radecki said, “There are opportunities for all three of them, and I expect them to fight it out all season. That’s what makes our team so great with our amazing depth.”

Davila-McClary is a Winter Garden, Florida, native and stayed instate coming out of high school. She signed with Lynn University, a member of the Sunshine State Conference, but did not see as much playing time at the setter position as she wanted.

“I played a (defensive specialist) position, passing in the back row,” Davila-McClary said. “I liked it, but it wasn’t what I went there for.”

After her freshman year, which saw 87 assists and 165 digs, Davila-McClary made the tough decision to transfer to a school where she could make an impact at setter. All roads seemed to lead to Florence, she said.

“My club coach told me about UNA and said that they had graduated a setter,” she said. “My options were here at UNA or a walk-on position at (Florida State University). FSU is a great D-1 program, but I would’ve been a back-up setter or in the game as DS, and again, I just wanted to play my position.”

De Leon led the Gulf South Conference in 2014 with 1,240 assists and 10.51 assists per set. The former setter from Puerto Rico remains in Florence while completing her degree.

De Leon said she wanted to help Davila-McClary and the other setters as much as possible.

“Jayden just got here, so I don’t have a close relationship with her, but I try to give her advice any time I can,” De Leon said. “I know how difficult it is to come to a team where all your hitters can hit, and you are the one that has to adapt to their skill sets.”

Davila-McClary said she is glad to have help from her coaches, De Leon, Winkler, Ellis and the rest of her teammates in her early success.

“I couldn’t have done this without the girls,” she said. “I think we all clicked right away.”