You might say she was destined to be a volleyball player.
With four aunts who played collegiately and a mother and grandmother who played recreationally, Stetson University junior Erika White was immersed in the sport from day one.
“When most kids are born they have rattles or other toys like that, but I'm pretty sure some of the first toys I got were those little promotional volleyballs some teams throw out to fans before games,” White said.
A native of the small central Illinois town of Jacksonville, White says her aunts were the ones that really sparked her interest in the sport at a young age.
“I remember having big family get-togethers where we would all be messing around in the backyard and there would always be a volleyball there,” White said. “We even got into trouble playing inside my grandma’s house a few times but she was usually playing with us so she didn't mind.”
White's four aunts are all on her father's side and all played volleyball in college: Michelle Aring at Florida Tech, Jenn Pool at Northern Illinois, and Donna May and Candy West at Illinois College. White’s father, Randall, was the eldest child and the lone son in the family and he, too, was an athlete, though he competed in baseball and basketball.
White said her aunts weren't blessed with an abundance of height, but they taught her how to be a valuable contributor in various facets of the game. She made strong use of those skills in high school where she played both setter and middle blocker. And when White and her younger sister, Rachel, were in action for Routt Catholic High, they certainly had plenty of support in the crowd.
“I always joked that I never just had a few fans at the game, I had a whole cheering section there for my sister and me,” White said. "My dad would even paint his head with my number and the team's name and wear matching warm-ups."
Now that White is playing for Stetson, it is a little more difficult for her family to attend games en masse. Instead, her parents will often connect the computer to the big screen TV and gather the family to watch the live video stream on the internet.
Another viewing party will likely be on tap this weekend as the Hatters (1-3) host the Stetson Westin Classic at the Edmunds Center. Stetson will play Savannah State twice as well as Providence and Bethune-Cookman during the two-day tournament, which starts Friday at 3 p.m.
The Hatters are looking to build off a strong start last weekend at the UniWyo Invitational. Stetson opened the season with a thrilling 3-1 victory over Drake, a match in which White had a direct impact on the outcome. With the Hatters leading 2-1 and the score tied at 23 in the fourth set, White put down back-to-back kills to give Stetson’s its first season-opening win since 2004.
“It felt great to put those balls away, but the serve receivers and defense played spectacular all weekend,” White said. “They gave both (setters) Kayla and Danika great passes allowing them to make quality sets to the hitters. Overall, it felt amazing to be out there on the floor again with all my teammates, stepping into a gym where we have never played before and really all of us showing off all the hard work we have been putting in this preseason and how far we have come.”
Both White and Loesch said that the season playing sand volleyball has had a tremendous positive affect on her her indoor game.
“Erika has really improved her blocking and her attacking,” Loesch said. “She got some good experience playing sand and worked hard on her conditioning over the summer. She has really improved her vertical and her foot speed as well as her skill. She has worked really hard to be a contributor and we are glad she has. The great thing about her is that in our drills all through the preseason, when it was clutch time, Erika always came through with a big kill or a block.”
White has already compiled 29 kills in four matches, seven more than she had in her first two seasons combined. However, she is not focused on those stats; she is just looking forward to having the team playing back at the Edmunds Center this weekend.“
"Overall, we learned some things we need to improve on (in Wyoming) but we can't wait to see the crowds we get this weekend,” White said. “We want to show off this year’s team and we are prepared to defend our home court.”
General Admission full day passes for each day of the tournament are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors and students. All home volleyball matches are free to Stetson students, faculty, and staff with a Stetson University ID. For more information call (386) 738-HATS.
For fans who cannot make it to the games, the four Stetson matches will be streamed live on HatterVision. There will also be live stats available at GoHatters.com, as well as updates through the @StetsonVB twitter feed and the Hat-Alerts text messaging service.
Friday, September 6
3 pm - Savannah State at Stetson
5 pm - Providence at Savannah State
7 pm - Bethune-Cookman at Stetson
Saturday, September 7
9 am - Savannah State vs. Bethune-Cookman
11 am - Providence at Stetson
1 pm - Bethune-Cookman vs. Providence
3 pm - Savannah State at Stetson