This year with so much parity in women’s Division I college volleyball, there are so many story lines that can be focused on. Who will win the power conferences? Who will be in the power conferences in a few years? How will the NCAA tournament selection go and who will be outraged this year? But one of the main topics with regards to team personnel is the extraordinary talent level of several freshmen who are making an impact on their teams and the national picture after only a few months on campus. There are many outstanding freshmen student-athletes throughout the country but we’ve focused on a few who could have great roles in their team’s chances of bringing home the NCAA title.
6’1” Middle/Outside Hitter, Mesquite, Texas
A charismatic and energetic player, Bell came to the Forty Acres as the second overall recruit by PrepVolleyball.com, and she hasn’t disappointed. She has been a mainstay in the lineup from the start of the season and ranks among the team leaders in kills, service aces, digs and blocks. She has been recognized by the Big 12 conference as the Rookie of the Week a handful of times, including after picking up Most Valuable Player accolades at the Texas Invitational.
Head Coach Jerritt Elliott on Bell
“Khat is just so physical. She comes in as a freshman but is more physical than many of the players in the country. She has great speed off the floor, she has a really live arm and she moves very well. She can be very overwhelming for opponents because of what she’s able to do. She’s such a multi-dimensional player – she played six rotations as an outside for us and now has transitioned to the middle. She plays at a very high level and can take the block out of the picture and she can make big point runs because of what she’s physically able to do.”
5’11” Outside Hitter, Lakewood, Calif.
Despite her height as compared to many other Division I outside hitters, Croson packs a big punch. She ranks among the top two on the squad in kills, aces and digs, a lethal complement to All-American outside hitter Kanani Danielson. She picked up her first-ever WAC Player of the Week honor after leading the Wahine to wins over Pepperdine, posting 10 kills and a career-high 19 digs the first night, and a career-high 23 kills and 19 digs the following night. A versatile athlete, Croson also excels on the beach as she and Summer Ross, a fellow impact freshman from the University of Washington, became the first Americans to capture the FIVB Youth Beach World title last summer.
Head Coach Dave Shoji on Croson
“First of all, she has a rifle of an arm, so that kind of separates her from a lot of other freshmen. She also doesn’t let anything bother her. She’s kind of a happy-go-lucky kind of kid. She’ll get blocked and kind of laugh it off and come back the next time and hit higher and harder. She’s been able to block out the negatives and just be positive and I think that’s a trait that separates her.”
5’10” Libero, Redondo Beach, Calif.
Dykstra is another multi-faceted player with a beach background. She enrolled at Nebraska last January in order to gain the experience necessary to compete for the starting libero spot vacated by Nebraska career-digs leader Kayla Banwarth. Well on the way to her impressive personal career dig total, Dykstra is the anchor of the Husker defense that faced 10 top-20 teams in the first three months of the season. In her first collegiate match, she also joined an elite Nebraska group: she became just the seventh true freshman to start a season opener in head coach John Cook’s 12-year tenure. In that match, she picked up 28 digs against New Mexico State.
Head Coach John Cook on Dykstra
“Lara is a very calm and confident player. She comes from a volleyball family where goal setting is an annual ritual. She believed she had a shot to start as a freshman and has made the most of her opportunity.”
6’3” Outside Hitter, Waterloo, Iowa
Described by Iowa State head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch as one of the best athletes in the country, Eckerman is a major part of the Longhorn offense. She has helped shoulder the load in the front row when a knee injury to Sha’Dare McNeal that forced her to miss the first 13 matches of the season, leading the squad in kills seven times during that period. Eckerman also earned all-tournament honors at the Nike Big Four Classic tournament with Penn State, Stanford and Florida as she led the Longhorns in kills both nights.
Head Coach Jerritt Elliott on Eckerman
“Haley has a great demeanor about her and she also has a great arsenal. She’s great out of system but she can hit all the shots and she has all the tools that most freshmen don’t have. Both she and Khat (Bell) have a lot of international experience that they came in here with. Haley has a very live arm and she’s a very, very good athlete.”
5’11” Setter, Edmond, Okla.
A competitive left-hander with a wicked jump serve, Hancock was thrown into the fire the second match of the season against USC and hasn’t looked back. She headlines a young core of Nittany Lion players shouldering the weight and expectations of four consecutive NCAA titles while navigating a treacherous schedule that saw the squad face 11 ranked teams in the first three months. Hancock leads the team, Big Ten and nation in service aces, including racking up seven against #1 Illinois on Oct. 8.
Head Coach Russ Rose on Hancock
“It’s one thing to be a setter and go to a team that is made up of veteran players and be able to step in and manage the task. It’s another thing to do it with a team that’s predominantly freshmen and sophomores. She is also leading the nation in serving from a good conference with tough competition. For her to have this impact in the Big Ten with such great liberos and teams, really points to the fact that she has a great serve.”
6’6” Outside Hitter, Liberty Township, Ohio
Ranked third by Prepvolleyball.com, McMahon came to Illinois as the highest-ranked recruit in school history. While there, she’s helped make a little more history – helping the Fighting Illini to the program’s first-ever No. 1 ranking and one of the best starts record-wise in school history. A versatile and athletic player with international experience under her belt, McMahon collected 20 kills on .576 hitting and seven blocks against Louisville and then added in 11 blocks versus Michigan, sitting among the team leaders in both kills and blocks.
Head Coach Kevin Hambly on McMahon
“Liz has become an exceptional blocker and has the ability to take away an entire side of the court at the net. She has played best in our toughest matches. She’s very calm in big moments and has had some of our kills in tough situations. She’s been the player we go to in the end of the set or the end of the match and so far she has come up big and I look for that to continue.”
6’2” Outside Hitter, Carlsbad, Calif.
A six-rotation player and primary passer for the Huskies, Ross goes about business in a quiet yet extremely effective manner. Named the 2010 USA Volleyball Beach Female Player of the Year—the first time ever that award had been given to a junior player—Ross ranks among the team leaders in kills, digs, blocks and aces, a testament to her well-rounded volleyball background and tremendous skill set.
Head Coach Jim McLaughlin on Ross
“Summer has a very complete skill set, and she has no fear. She loves to be in a competitive environment, yet she knows how to turn it off and on. For a player her age she is very mature. She’s improving and where some kids only play to their strengths, she is not afraid to focus on a weakness.”
6’2” Outside Hitter, Redlands, Calif.
The fire to Ross’ calm, Vansant is a powerful player who became the first Husky recruit to earn Gatorade National Player of the Year honors coming out of high school. She ranks among the Pac 12 leaders in kills, aces and points per set and led the squad in kills 12 of out the first 18 matches of the year. A versatile player who hits out of the front and back row, Vansant has also been lauded by many to posses “it” – the intangibles that very few players have to take their game and their team to the next level.
Head Coach Jim McLaughlin on Vansant
“If you just look at what’s been put on her as far as expectations, a lot has been put on her, enough that it could kind of kick you in the wrong direction. But because of who she is as a person, and the way she operates, she is able to handle it. Krista is a very nice learner; she’s able to understand things and get to work. She is awfully competitive. She’s a perfectionist and she can be very hard on herself, which is okay, if you understand that you’re making progress day to day. If she can stay on that path of improvement, the sky is the limit.”
We know there are other “impact freshman” out there and we know you have opinions. Let us know who your impact freshman would be and why, in the comments below.
Originally published in December/January 2012