Baseball uses the term, “five-tool player,” to refer to the fact that the player is able to perform well in multiple aspects of the sport.
Sophomore Aaron Russell’s position is volleyball’s version of a five-tool player, an outside hitter.
However, the Maryland native is still developing into a five-tool star after moving to the position, helping the No. 13 Nittany Lions to a 14-6 record (8-1 EIVA) this season and leading in kills.
The position involves attacking, digging and blocking, more than he did at his old position last year — middle hitter. Coach Mark Pavlik moved Russell from the middle hitter to his current spot before this season.
“When we recruited Aaron, we thought he could be a very good outside hitter,” Pavlik said. “But last year, we needed him on the court in the middle so he played middle. We had planned on making that switch.”
The 6-foot-9 Russell has 227 kills so far this season, which is already more than his total last season, 203.
The position switch has also lead to more passing for Russell. Passing is done more by an outside hitter than a middle hitter and is one of the primary differences between the two positions.
So far this season, Russell has 109 digs. Last year, he had 44 total. According to Russell, this aspect of the switch has been the most challenging for him.
“It's been interesting,” Russell said. “The way I look at it is I am learning the game again from a different perspective… One definitely important part is the passing. A middle, you go right into your approach. At outside, you have to pass first.”
The position has allowed Russell to see more touches this season. He has 474 attacking attempts this year, a team-high. He has attacked the ball on 23.6 percent of Penn State’s chances. He has 24.5 percent of the team’s kills as well.
Along with more touches, one of the biggest advantages for Russell to the position switch is getting to play with his brother, junior Peter, more this season.
Peter, who is always an outside hitter, said that is something he also enjoys.
Peter is also helping his younger brother with the switch. The 6-foot-5 junior is second on the team in kills with 173. He also has a .278 hitting average, which is also second on the team of players with more than 200 attempts.
“I think the biggest thing is just I know him probably best out of anyone on our team,” Peter said of his brother. “I could tell after Blue-White. I remember him struggling a little bit with passing. He was really, really upset, and really felt like he wasn't going to be able to do it. I just comforted him.”
Aaron said that the two will watch film before matches and that Peter has told him what he is doing well or poorly in the past at the spot.
The brothers’ father, Stewart, a former Penn State player himself, has also been helping Aaron with the switch.
“It's fun playing with [Peter],” the sophomore from Ellicott City, Md., said. “When my dad comes up and visits, he loves talking to [Peter] and I both about the game, especially now that we are the same position, he kind of talks to both of us. Last year he would pull us aside, be him and Pete, and then me. But now, it's kind of all of us together.”
While Russell said the switch has been challenging, he does enjoy it, and is glad Pavlik and the Lions’ coaching staff saw his potential.
“It is definitely cool because they saw something in me more than my normal position,” Aaron said. “That meant that I can play more than the normal position. I think it is really cool how they saw that.”