K-State volleyball freshman Loren Hinkle knew the challenge of switching positions. She never really had one permanent spot in high school. She was more of a utility player.
“I really did everything,” Hinkle, who played outside hitter, setter and defensive specialist in high school, said. “It was almost like coaches didn’t know where to put me because they were, like, ‘Well, we could use you here or use you there,’ which I was totally fine with. If I’m on the court, I’ll do it.”
This mentality and her various experience helped her transition at K-State, where Hinkle came in as a defensive specialist/libero. The latter, a more full-time back row position, was completely new to her.
It did not look new to her last Saturday, however, when she picked up 23 digs as K-State’s libero in a three-set win at Texas Tech to end the season.
For her performance, Hinkle was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. Her dig total was the most in the Big 12 for a three-set match this season and tied K-State’s three-set record in the rally-scoring era.
Hinkle said her effort, part of K-State’s best defensive performance of the season, was partly a culmination of what she learned from her teammates and coaches. She said she watched other Wildcat defensive specialists closely, noting “how springy and quick they are” and “how they risked their bodies to get to balls.”
“I kind of had to learn to go after balls and not be scared of whatever. If it hurts my body, whatever, just get the ball up and keep playing,” Hinkle said. “Seeing them in practice and competing with them every day helped me. So, I think having that drive going into this spring will really help, continuously competing with everybody and learning and improving.”
She also took advantage of a few tools offered by the coaches. One was her player journal, where she would jot notes and goals for improvement while watching game film. Hinkle developed specific areas to emphasize through this. Another resource was optional “tutor” sessions, otherwise known as extra practice time with one of the Wildcat coaches. Hinkle got in more reps that way.
All of it gradually paid off.
The Shawnee native finished her first season at K-State with 308 digs, second most on the team, and averaging 3.53 digs per set in Big 12 play, the fourth-best average in the conference and tops among freshman.
“I think (it happened) over time. There wasn’t a game where I was, like, ‘I really feel I’m a true lib now,'” she said. “It took time, which I was expecting when I came into it. I didn’t expect to have anything click (right away). So, I think gradually I just became more and more comfortable in it.”
This is where Hinkle’s experience with changing positions came into play in a positive way. Her final club season in high school, she transitioned to setter for the first time. That move laid the foundation for this one.
“I was kind of prepared for the challenge,” Hinkle said. “I knew what to expect with the different mentality and how to switch my mentality from being scared or having any fear of messing up, and I kind of changed it to, ‘It’s going to happen and it’s part of the process.’ So, I had to get uncomfortable and become comfortable with being uncomfortable. (Head coach) Suzie (Fritz) always stressed that for me.
“Starting in the spring, I was really scared. I was, like, ‘Man, I was setting and now I have to make this switch.’ That fear was always there that it was going to be hard, but I was kind of expecting the challenge. So, I feel like that helped kind of motivate me. Knowing that I hadn’t already played this position and I had a lot of work to do, I was expecting challenges along the way. I think that helped me.”
Hinkle also said there’s been an additional benefit to her jack-of-all-trades volleyball background. Not only does she have experience as an outside hitter, giving her insight into how someone might attack K-State’s defense, but she gets how her role can effect the entire system.
“When you know and understand other positions, it kind of helps you to understand where your teammates are coming from when they’re holding you accountable for different things,” Hinkle said. “Understanding how one position can effect the other, I think that’s really helped me.”
Hinkle’s serve also helped, in a roundabout way.
Her ability to start a rally played a role in her early playing time, as she finished with a team-high 25 service aces this season.
Hinkle, however, said she struggled in this area until about age 16. She used to frequently sail it out of bounds or smash it into the net. Then, her club coach helped her tweak some technique and it soon became an asset that stuck out to K-State associate head coach Jeff Grove.
“When I was being recruited, Jeff always stressed, ‘Your serve is amazing. When you’re going on a run, it’s really good.’ That was a big thing that really added to (my other skills). It was a big part (of my recruitment),” Hinkle said. “I feel like for libs or (defensive specialists), it’s something you need to have. I feel like it really helped me with that process.”
Going into this offseason, Hinkle said her focus is to continue to develop as a libero but also in ways that have nothing to do with which position she’s at.
“A big part of what I’ve talked about with Suzie now is just improving the way I lead or the way I interact with my teammates and just my overall presence on the court,” Hinkle said, “and obviously continuing to get better skill-wise and technique-wise, but (recognizing) how much of an impact demeanor and presence has on the court with your teammates. So, I feel like that’s the big thing I’m working on right now is just how to communicate and how to do my job even further.”
Source: Kansas State Sports