Hutchinson, talented Vikings hope for a standout season
Aug. 29, 2012
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
By ANDREW LANG -- THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Western Washington University volleyball coach Diane Flick has a predicament.
It's a good one, though.
Flick's roster is brimming with players of various talents and skill sets, but she can only fit six players on the court at once.
"We have weapons at each position, which will create great balance for us," Flick said in a phone interview. "I really like what I see. I think we have a lot of good pieces."
The Vikings, who compiled a 16-6 overall record and finished tied for second in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference last year, return 10 players who've seen action.
With few starting spots secured, redshirt sophomore libero Samantha Hutchinson said practices have been packed with competition.
"We don't really have a starting lineup," Hutchinson said in a phone interview. "We just go into practice and compete against each other. I think it's a great environment. We play against each other and get better, and we're ready for game situations."
Push and pull. That's what Flick calls it. One player pulls closer to move ahead on the depth chart and the other player pushes her away. It's a constant battle for playing time.
Flick may embrace a competition-based philosophy to determine minutes, but she's certain of at least a few starting spots.
Geary and her powerful swing combined for a 4.24 kills per set average, amassing 339 kills a year ago. It's no secret she'll be the focal point of every opponent's game plan.
"Marlayna is a big gun," Flick said. "It's been that way for a while. I don't think we want to ask more from Marlayna. I think everyone else will have to alleviate her. (Geary) really needs to look back at the work she's put in the past three years and just enjoy the process, because she has earned every bit of it. She will open things up big-time for other players."
It doesn't hurt having Yearout as a setter when it comes to getting others involved. She's proved she can distribute as well as anyone in the conference.
"To have a fifth-year player who is the hub of your offense is great for a coach," Flick said of her experienced setter. "On the court, it's like having another assistant coach out there."
Hutchinson is another player Flick has all but pegged as a starter, and for good reason. After redshirting in 2010, Hutchinson, who played outside hitter and opposite in high school and in club, showed flashes of being the next great libero in Western's long line of defensive specialists.
The converted libero earned an honorable mention last year, ranking 15th nationally among NCAA Division II leaders and second in the GNAC in digs with 462.
"Sam never played libero until she got here, but you could tell (she'd be good) by the way she played when we watched her," Flick said. "She's played a lot and understands the game well. She can narrow things down, and she can take charge and get that good first-ball contact."
In addition to Hutchinson's skill, Flick spoke glowingly about her tremendous appreciation for the game, which stems from a fight she won with a dangerous form of meningitis following her junior year of high school.
"At the end of my junior year, I was really sick with meningitis meningococcal, and it hit me super fast," Hutchinson explained. "They rushed me to the hospital and put me in a coma for six days. I didn't know if I was going to survive. After that, they sent me to the regular hospital floor for six more days. I had to learn how to walk again, all the basics of life."
Hutchinson said she retrained herself quickly and was able to go home shortly after her six days on the regular hospital floor.
"I worked really hard to get back to volleyball my senior year," Hutchinson said. "Life is short, and you never know when you are going to leave. I enjoy every moment I get to play volleyball, because you never know when you're not going to play."
Hutchinson sad she endured physical therapy three times a week during the summer heading into her senior year of high school so she'd be ready for volleyball in August.
It's that same determination that's helped her make a seamless transition to Western's historically strong libero position.
"I don't feel a lot of pressure, but there's a lot to live up to," Hutchinson said. "But I think I can do that. I take a lot of pride in being a leader in the back row and rallying our team to play good defense."
She has the supporting cast to help her grow and continue to develop as Western's next great defensive specialist.
Besides Geary, the Vikings have a number of options at outside hitter. Kinsey Davis, Kelsey Moore and Emily Cotter all spent time at the spot last season. Rachel Roeder is a freshman who also figures to be in the mix.
Junior Emily Boerger gives Western a great option at middle blocker. Her 121 kills a year ago ranked third on the team. Boerger also spent time at right-side hitter. Jennica McPherson, a lefty, and Kayla Erickson are two other opposites Flick said she's excited about.
Senior Bailey Jones is still dealing with a concussion injury, and her status for the season is yet to be determined. If she does play, she'd give the Vikings a big lift in the middle.
Western is redshirting a number of true freshmen, including former Mount Baker standout Raney Lepper.
WWU opens its season at the Western Oregon Invitational. The Vikings face Florida Southern at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, in Monmouth, Ore. Western's home opener is against Montana State-Billings at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, at Carver Gym.
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