Senior Tom Comfort, whether he realizes it or not, has a habit of crediting one particular teammate for his individual success: Taylor Hammond, the team’s setter.
“Taylor is always calm on the court,” said Comfort, who with a team-high 77 kills has become the main beneficiary of Hammond’s strong setting. “He does what the setter needs to do and that is run the offense.”
If Comfort serves as the Karl Malone of men’s volleyball, then Hammond would be the equivalent of John Stockton.
The similarities between floor generals Hammond and Stockton are not as farfetched as one might assume.
Despite playing two totally different positions, and sports, each was charged with the task of creating shots for their respective teammates.
“I like to describe myself as like a point guard in basketball or a quarterback in football,” Hammond said. “I would label myself as more of a distributor.”
As the facilitator of the offense, Hammond has thrived in his role as the setter and is currently second in the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association in assists per set with 10.07.
“Since he touches the ball on every play, he needs to be the most consistent player,” said Comfort. “He does that really well, which allows the rest of us to follow his lead.”
Because the redshirt freshman’s main objective on the court is to set up his hitters for quality swings, his nightly numbers don’t often jump out at you in the box score because he’s not the one racking up kills.
Of the 326 combined kills that Penn State has registered, Hammond has compiled only nine of them.
But while Hammond isn’t throwing down spikes on a nightly basis, his statistics are no less significant.
“My stats come in assists just like a point guards does,” Hammond said. “My impact comes in other ways such as digs or service attempts. My teammates deserve the credit because they’re the ones putting the ball away.”
To put the 6-foot-4 setter’s output in perspective, he has 282 assists through seven contests, while Penn State’s opponents have a combined 274.
Just as a center in hockey would celebrate assisting on a teammate’s goal, Hammond does likewise when he jumps and sets before his teammates go in for the kill.
It is this type of unselfish play that has his teammates and coaches acting like he’s number one, which ironically is Hammond’s jersey number.
“He has a consistent shape to his set, it comes out of his hand very, very consistently,” said head coach Mark Pavlik. “He’s getting good at taking it from the same spot in relation to his head all the time.”
With all of the early season success that Hammond has had for the Nittany Lions, it’s easy to forget that this is his first year as the primary setter after sitting behind senior captain Edgardo “Eddy” Goas during his redshirt year.
While growing pains are expected out of a first-year starter, his head coach has been pleased with the way he’s figured things out thus far.
“He’s got a very bright future and an incredible work ethic,” Pavlik said. “Taylor is going to be an incredible setter here at Penn State, no question in my mind.”