Erickson starring in first year starting middle blocker role for Vikings
Oct. 14, 2012
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
By ANDREW LANG -- THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
If Kayla Erickson were asked halfway through her high school career whether she thought she'd be playing collegiate volleyball, she would have said no.
Erickson starred at Peninsula High as a three-sport athlete.
She started and lettered three years in volleyball and competed at state track three years in a row, placing seventh in the triple jump during her junior and senior years. Her love, though, was basketball.
Erickson was a four-year basketball letter-winner, earning first-team all-league honors as a senior and second-team honors as a junior.
So how has a standout high school basketball star developed into one of the strongest middle blockers in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in her first year starting for Western Washington University?
"Before I came to Western, I was really more of a basketball person," Erickson said in a phone interview. "I thought I'd be playing basketball in college. I knew I wanted to go to Western, and when we made it to state in volleyball, the (Western) assistant coach saw me play there. He emailed my coach saying they would like to offer me a spot on the team."
Erickson stands 6-foot-1 and has the leaping abilities of a basketball player.
Diane Flick and her coaching staff have found a gem in Erickson.
The redshirt sophomore has started every match this season, ranks second on the team in kills with 186 and leads WWU in blocks with 54.
A question mark heading into the season was how the Vikings would replace Emily Jepsen, who manned the middle blocker position the previous four years and finished 10th among Western's school career leaders in blocks.
Erickson's provided the answer.
She's been a major reason the Vikings are ranked No. 14 nationally and are tied for the GNAC lead with a 8-1 record. Western is 15-2 overall.
"We have three redshirt middles and two middles coming in, so I kind of knew I had a starting middle position, but I played like I was earning it," Erickson said. "I didn't feel like it was given."
She hasn't been surprised by her own production, but she said she's not surprised if others have been.
"I wasn't as experienced as the rest of the team," Erickson said. "I never had played club (volleyball) before, and I guess I've been kind of a surprise to people who have grown up their whole lives playing. Diane has told me I'm still reaching my potential."
Her first two years at Western, Erickson acted like a sponge, soaking up all the volleyball knowledge she could.
She redshirted her freshman year and played sparingly last season. During those two years, she had a great mentor in Jepsen.
"I've just been working hard in practice, and the whole team has helped me," Erickson said. "Em J was in the middle last year. She was a big part of (my development). She would just always give me tips. We have other great middles, as well. Going against them in practice has really helped me improve."
Although Erickson may be a converted volleyball player, the skills she learned from basketball have been implemented into her volleyball game.
"I don't know how to put it, but when I play volleyball there are a lot of basketball things I use," Erickson said. "I guess since maybe I trained for all three (volleyball, basketball and track) there are different abilities I can bring to the court."
The Vikings' two losses this year were against UC San Diego in five sets and a four-set loss to rival Central Washington at the hostile Nicholson Pavilion in Ellensburg.
Western gets a chance to avenge its loss and take sole possession for first place in the conference when the Vikings' host CWU at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, at Carver Gym.
"Against Central, I think it was the atmosphere in the gym, and we just shut down," Erickson said. "To beat them, we need to keep our shots over their blocks and just keep swinging high. Being a home game, we're really excited about it."
When asked if Erickson has thought about speaking with WWU women's basketball coach Carmen Dolfo to see if she could play for her, Erickson said the thought crossed her mind. She said volleyball is too much of a full-year commitment, though, to dedicate time to basketball.
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