There's no question, looking up and down the lineup, where the strength of UB Volleyball will lie this season. With three returning middle blockers, Buffalo's defense is going to hold its ground while the offense shakes itself out.
We've already talked about sophomore Cassie Shado, but to even get playing time and play her way onto the MAC All-Freshman Team she had to establish herself against the nearly identical pairing of Amber Hatchett and Akeila Lain.
I prefer to post on one student-athlete at a time, but Hatchett and Lain's on-court production is so similar it's eerie. Hatchett has a thundering attack and can absolutely take over a set for stretches of 5-10 points. Lain is a slightly more productive blocker who by the eye test is a little quieter on offense, but put up almost identical offensive numbers in 2014:
In conference play alone, the numbers split a hair - Hatchett looks a little better on offense, Lain on defense.
UB's blocking was the one facet of play game that was markedly better than the conference average, in both the whole season and conference-only play. Shado was a hair off the conference lead, Lain in the top five, and as a team UB was second in the conference both season long and in MAC play in blocks.
In theory, high-quality blockers make the back line's job more predictable and the team can more easily shift efficiently form offense to defense. With formidable experience in the 5-11 Hatchett and 6-1 Lain (and 6-1 Shado), UB will hopefully be able to dictate the opposing offense's attacks. Easier digs means easier sets and easier attacks once possession flips.
Of course, UB will be looking for help in attack as well with three of 2014's four leading outside hitters gone. Even last year, Lain and Hatchett were third and fourth on the team, jointly accounting for 30% of the team's kills. I'm not yet familiar enough with volleyball to know what a normal reliance on interior options is, but given the glut of new faces in attack, I wouldn't be surprised to see the duo remain the immediate options after Megan Lipski in 2015.