DeKALB – During fall camp, junior Chandler Kinley and freshman Sam Boever were competing for the starting setter spot for the Northern Illinois volleyball team.
About a half-hour before the season opener against DePaul, Huskies coach Ray Gooden told them his decision.
He was going to play both of them.
The two successfully have shared setting duties this season, and the Huskies are off to a perfect start in Mid-American Conference play heading into their 7 p.m. Friday home match against Buffalo.
"We have options, which is cool, whether in a one-setter system or a two-setter system," Gooden said. "I think it's mainly because we have a lot of hitters we want to use. It's not that one setter is better or they're not good enough. I just feel like for the first time in a while, there's depth on the right side that we can find balance with a two-setter situation."
Although only one of them plays at a time, Gooden said this is the first time he purposefully has used a two-setter formation at NIU. The duo took over after the Huskies graduated Alexis Gonzalez, who was a two-time first-team all-MAC player and was the conference's Setter of the Year in 2015.
Gooden admits that, like every year, he was nervous on how the Huskies would replace the talent they lost from the previous season. However, with Kinley and Boever as setters, the Huskies are 14-4 overall, 6-0 in the MAC West and riding a nine-match winning streak.
"Chandler and I have different styles, so I'm sure from a setting standpoint it is a little different, but overall, we try to set the same tempo and speed," said Boever, who came to NIU from Gilbert, Arizona. "It feels pretty cohesive now as opposed to the beginning of the season when I felt a little rocky."
Kinley, who is from Lexington, Kentucky, is averaging 5.65 assists a set this season, including 5.05 a set in conference matches, and 2.22 digs. Boever is putting up 4.69 assists a set on the year and 4.32 in conference.
Both have played in all 22 sets during conference play.
"Although it's competitive between me and Chandler, I really respect her and I go to her if I need help setting or with connections or something like that," Boever said. "Obviously, I would want to be on the floor the whole time, but I think it works best for our team for both of us to be out there. I'm her biggest supporter when I'm on the bench. I love it when we do well when she's in, and I love it when we do well when I'm in."
Kinley played in 16 matches as a junior last season, including a start against No. 14 Florida State in which she had a career-high 28 assists. With plenty of talented senior attackers on the roster, Kinley said the rotations of having two setters allow the Huskies to maximize their offensive capabilities.
"It's definitely different. It's the first time I've done this before, but I think it's really cool because it allows more people to get in," Kinley said of sharing the setting duties.
Gooden jokes that there had been times earlier in the season that the Huskies' setting has been "garbage," but highlights that it's been nice to see the evolution from them. However, in a position that relies heavily on rhythm, he understands the challenge of each of them having to rotate in and out but still keeping a consistent flow.
"When you go in and out, you have to figure out how to stay in it as much as you possibly can," Gooden said.