Keys to playing middle blocker/hitter

* Good vision. Middle blockers too often will watch the ball rather than the opposing players in trying to gauge where a kill may be attempted. By focusing on the opponent, Johnson said, she gets a better read on which direction the opposing setter and hitter are planning to direct the ball. "It's not about instinct at all," she said. "It's something you've got to practice, because it's not easy to predict where another setter is going to place the ball."

* Lateral quickness. Johnson has to be able to react quickly once she has a sense of where the ball is being set by the opposing team. That often means traveling from one side of the court to the other quickly enough that she can attempt a block.

* Proper spacing. When she first started playing, Johnson said she often crowded the setter and was too close to the net. But she was able to get off a kill because of her athletic ability. But now she has learned to make sure she puts enough space between herself and the setter so that she's hitting the ball in front of her -- and has better vision of the court across the net.

-- Judith Evans