Autumn Finney is a long jumper who wants to be a Marine.
No one should be surprised after seeing her magnificent save and swing in a Texas high school volleyball match last Friday.
The 5-foot-6 senior at Decatur High School went flying past the end line, and, while airborne and fully stretched out, took a swing that not only saved the ball, but sent it back over the net.
“I knew my libero was on the floor so she kind of had to jump over her,” first-year Decatur coach Clark Oberle said. “So she kind of had to jump over her. And then I started watching the ball to see if it was going to make it over and I heard her hit the floor and I remember thinking, ‘That had to have hurt.’
“That sounded like it hurt. But the next thing I know she was right back in there playing defense and ready to do it again.”
Indeed, because Finney made another dig and her team eventually won the point.
The crowd, of course, went wild and the play became an internet sensation.
Still don't understand how this was possible… pic.twitter.com/6S4X9JmV5V
— Satasha (@satasha_k) October 21, 2017
Decatur, located just more than 60 miles northwest of Dallas, won the set, but Krum — which happened to be where Finney played her first three years of high school — won the match in four, 25-17, 25-16, 17-25, 25-16.
Finney giggled when asked to recount the play which came with her team down two sets to none but ahead 20-17 in the third.
“I honestly don’t remember doing it,” she said. “This was already a bigger game to me personally because they’re our rivals and they were first in district. We were the underdogs and we had nothing to lose. We just wanted to have fun and give it our all that game.”
The initial cell-phone video, credited to Mallory Downe, was actually taken by her twin sister, Macy. Mallory was actually on the court at the time.
“I remember I saw Mallory hit the ball,” Finney recalled, “and then Tayte (Helton) made a great dig and I was like, ‘I can’t let that go.’ That was such an effort and she was on the ground and I had to jump over her.
“And then I thought, ‘This ball has to go that way and I’m flying this way and how am I gonna do it?’ ”
She laughed again.
“I guess it’s because I wasn’t thinking that I did it. If I was thinking, I don’t know if I would have done that.”
No doubt the long jumping came in handy at that point.
“Oh, yeah,” she said.
“I knew it was a great play,” Oberle said, “but it was a fairly long rally anyway and that was so exciting. I wasn’t sure they were going to call the net violation (against Krum) and one of their back-row players ended up catching the ball because she knew they had blown the play dead.
“I was hoping that would give us enough momentum to come back and win the whole match, but it didn’t quite work out that way. But even the line judge said to me, ‘Oh, my gosh, coach, that was amazing!’ Everybody knew right away it was a pretty big deal, but seeing it later on video was when I really realized it.”
In the local newspaper, the WCMessenger, the headline on the story about the save read “Herculean effort turns Decatur’s Finney into viral sensation“
“This is the kind of thing you read about or hear about,” Oberle said with a laugh. “It’s been quite a few days, that’s for sure.”
Finney, 17, has never played club volleyball. In the spring, she’s a sprinter, long jumper and triple jumper in track and field.
“I anchor all three relays,” she said proudly, and was quick to point out that the school’s 4×100 relay is made up of all volleyball players, including the Downe twins, who are juniors, and Cidnee Howard, a defensive specialist.
“You will see us in the newspapers for our track team,” Finney declared. “In our 4 x 100, they are amazing.”
Finney spent the first three years of high school at Krum, of all places, before her family moved for her senior year.
She was a JV libero her freshman year. The next two years she played outside and her team made it to the regional playoffs.
“I was always the youngest. I had a team of seven, eight seniors, so moving to Decatur and being one of the only seniors on the team and the only senior on the court, I had a complete 360 role change,” Finney said.
Accordingly, being a leader seems right in line with the next step in her life.
Finney hopes to go to Texas A&M and go into the Corps of Cadets.
“I would really love, love to be a United States Marine,” she said. “That’s what I want to do in my heart.”
Oberle, who last year coached at another team in the district, Argyle, which Decatur happens to play on Tuesday, was well aware of how hard Finney plays and has appreciated seeing it first-hand.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know her,” Oberle said. “My assistant coach and I were talking this morning about the play and how it’s getting all the attention and she said ‘When it happened I really didn’t think that much of it because she plays that hard all the time.’ I mean, she doesn’t always make a play like that, but she practices that hard and plays like that and runs track the same way. She’s all guts and tough as nails, so nobody’s really surprised she did that.”
Finney has this volleyball season to finish — Decatur is 24-14 and all but assured of getting into the postseason — a track season in the spring and dealing with being an internet sensation.
“When Kerri Walsh, THE Kerri Walsh Jennings even just recognized me, that was the pinnacle,” Finney said. “Like everything else is just extra.”