By Anders Jorstad — STAFF WRITER
In a fast-paced sport like volleyball, defense is key. Particularly on the front line, a dominant wall of defensive threats can thwart a strong outside attack. This is where Pride junior Michela Rucli thrives.
“Blocking is very important,” said Rucli, a native of Remanzacco, Italy. “If the block is set up well, it makes a huge difference for the defense to play behind and it slows down the other team, which is the main goal. We want to control the game and slow down the other team to be able to set up our own pace.”
Rucli is one of the best blockers in the country.
In 2015, she was in the top 25 in the NCAA for total blocks, and she had the second most of any freshman.
This year, she leads the Pride with 1.16 blocks per set.
Now a junior captain of the Hofstra volleyball squad, the middle blocker has become a leader on the young team. In that role, Rucli has made team defense a large focus of Hofstra’s strategy.
“There has to be perfect communication between the front and the back,” Rucli said. “The front row has to do their job in order for the back row to fit into the right spot and follow the game plan that we want for that match.”
Blocking has been a key component to the success of the Pride program.
Since Emily Mansur became the head coach at Hofstra, the volleyball team has placed in the top half of the conference in blocking in every season. The Pride currently ranks third in the CAA.
Rucli has been a large part of that ever since she arrived in Hempstead from Italy.
One of two Italian captains on a team full of international players, Rucli is one of the leaders responsible for helping everybody come together despite vastly different upbringings.
“Practice is essential,” Rucli said. “That’s the reason why we’re able to blend together. One of the biggest things we do at the beginning of the year is to try to get everyone to build and get to the same method of playing. Every single one of us comes from different styles, so the most important thing is that we play together and we play with the same method. We have to become one.”
One of Rucli’s biggest challenges when she first came to America was acclimating to the style of play here. Volleyball is fundamentally the same in Europe, but there are enough differences that the transition can be difficult.
“The rules are actually very different in Italy,” Rucli said. “The style is very different. Serving criteria is different. What’s considered in and out of bounds is different. The style of play here is also very fast compared to what I was used to. At first it was hard to adjust to. Right now, this is what I’m playing and what I’m used to.”
The learning curve hasn’t slowed Rucli down; she landed on the All-CAA Second Team last season.
The junior middle blocker still strives to improve her game offensively. Rucli finished third on the team in kills last year with 265, just 16 shy of the second-place mark on the squad. She and fellow Italian Laura Masciullo are the leading returning scorers in this year’s bunch.
Rucli has already asserted herself as the biggest offensive threat among the team’s middle blockers. She ranks third on the team with 103 kills.
With Rucli’s help on both offense and defense, the Pride has won four of their last five matches and get ready to gear up with conference play on Friday when the College of Charleston comes to town. Hofstra, picked second in the CAA in the preseason polls, has some pretty big ambitions.
“We want to do very well,” Rucli said. “We want to go very far even after the CAA is over.”