Ludes gets 2nd chance as senior

Skyview grad back starting at setter for San Francisco

By Kurt Zimmer, Columbian Sports Reporter

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Good things happen to those who wait.

The path as a college volleyball player started out smoothly enough at the University of San Francisco for setter Leanna Ludes, who recorded more than one-third of the team's assists during her freshman season.

But when the Dons brought in a freshman setter the next season, the Skyview High School graduate's contributions slipped to 15 percent of the team's assists, then to half that percentage last season.

"It was cool to jump in and, 'I'm playing as a freshman,' then new players come in and we had great recruits, and you just kind of have to work with what you have and be supportive, no matter where you're at," Ludes said.

"I didn't change anything about how I practiced or how I would play when I got into a game. I just continued to work hard and do what I do because you never know when you're going to need to be ready to go."

It turns out that Ludes needed to be ready to go this season.

USF's setter rotation changed dramatically when Joan Caloiaro left the program and transferred across the Bay to play at California.

"I actually had more playing time as a freshman than I did my sophomore and junior years. Now I'm back in a starting position," said Ludes, a two-time All-Region Volleyball Player of the Year selection by The Columbian. "Anything can happen in a second. I stayed optimistic about it, and it worked out. I feel like I'm ready for it now."

As the primary setter in the Dons' "5-1" offense with a single setter, Ludes has recorded 87 percent of the team's assists this season, averaging 10.29 assists a set.

USF is 10-6 overall and 1-2 in West Coast Conference play. The Dons play at 1 p.m. Saturday at the University of Portland, effectively a home match for Ludes in a Chiles Center gym where the Pilots have won the past two meetings.

"I love coming back to the Northwest to play," Ludes said. "I get to see all of my friends and family. The past two years, we've lost in Portland, but I think it's going to be a different story this year. It better be a different story. There's always a little extra motivation for me to win at home."

Ludes said she has learned how to manage the balance between student and athlete when both aspects take up much more time than they did when she was at Skyview.

What she has learned about competition at the collegiate level is that, compared to high school, little separates the good teams from the struggling teams.

"In our conference, anyone can win at any given point in time," she said. "I felt like in high school that there were teams that would always win and teams that would always lose. In college, you have to be ready on your toes every day because there's no saying who's going to win."

The Dons haven beaten California twice and have played highly ranked Stanford and Hawaii to prepare for the WCC schedule, proving that they "can keep up with the big dogs," Ludes said.

She said USF's international roster -- two players each from Croatia and Israel, plus players from Slovenia, the Netherlands and Germany -- has "really started to connect and create chemistry with each other," and the Dons are aiming to finish in the top half of the WCC.

"Individually, I always tell myself that there's always room for improvement, whether it's going into film every Monday after the weekend or studying plays or just getting a few extra reps in the gym," she said. "This is it."

Ludes was surprised by Caloiaro's decision to leave the program, but gladly accepts the role it gave her.

"When it happened, I was like, 'OK, now it's my time,' " Ludes said. "I have a good relationship with everyone on the team, and I felt like I was ready for what was ahead. We always tell ourselves as a team, 'Right here. Right now.' I just tell myself that it's time. It's now or never, really."