Boys Volleyball: Tackett's seamless move powers Pickerington Central Tigers

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Landon Tackett's seamless transition from setter to hitter has sparked Central this season. The Tigers were 11-4 overall and 8-3 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Pickerington North on April 29.

Given the informal nature of offseason open gyms, Pickerington Central boys volleyball coach Luke Rininger asked setter Landon Tackett to test himself as a hitter one day over the winter.

Neither could have foreseen at the time that the junior would become one of the Tigers’ top hitters during a successful start, despite his roots as a defensive specialist and setter as well as his height of 5-foot-7.

“It came out of nowhere, basically,” Tackett said. “He threw out the idea and it kind of worked. I’ve been playing volleyball for a while. I’ve played about every position, so just trying outside, I got used to it quick. I’ve always hit, but never been that hitter in a game-like situation.”

After setting his freshman season, when Central went 15-11 and reached a Division I East Region semifinal, Tackett has settled in at the net during a hot start for the team. Tackett had 44 kills, 29 digs and six blocks through 13 matches, and the Tigers were 11-4 overall and 8-3 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Pickerington North on April 29.

Twenty percent of Tackett’s serves were aces through 13 matches.

Rininger had no reservations about moving Tackett, if only because of his volleyball intelligence.

“He can pass, set and serve. He can do it all and he’s stepped up as a leader,” Rininger said. “He would be our best setter. Because of his height, he’s never going to hit the ball as hard down the 10-foot line as some of these other guys. But because of his smarts, he’ll hit around blockers all day.”

Tackett threw himself into preparation, watching college matches — notably those involving Hawaii, Pepperdine and Stanford, the former two of which were ranked in the top 12 nationally as of last week — and studying outside hitters, specifically their blocking and footwork.

“It helped me watching one position, paying attention to their footwork, how they transition off the net and how they block,” said Tackett, who estimated his vertical leap reaches 10-5. “I’d never blocked outside and I had to learn to use my left foot first. After the first couple practices, I got the footwork down and then started working more on angles. Now, it’s more about execution.”

Rininger said he has not ruled out splitting Tackett between hitter and setter down the stretch. Central visits New Albany on May 6 and is scheduled to finish the regular season May 12 at home against Upper Arlington and Watterson.

“Sometimes the best player is more about themselves, but he’s all about the team. He leads by example,” Rininger said, adding he thinks Tackett is capable of earning a scholarship to play at the NAIA level or higher.

Losses to league powers Gahanna (22-25, 25-11, 25-16, 21-25, 15-11 on April 8 and 25-17, 25-21, 25-15 on April 27) and New Albany (22-25, 25-17, 25-15, 25-19 on April 15) took the Tigers out of OCC-Ohio championship contention, but Tackett said those setbacks only served to help the team play with a chip on its shoulder.

“We think we could be undefeated, though. We’ve had some injuries and quarantines and made some mistakes here and there,” Tackett said. “We definitely have that drive to be even better.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave