Erin Waller Tabbed Prepvolleyball.com National Player Of The Year

Jan. 24, 2005

As much as we like Erin Waller, we did not want to make the 6-1 middle blocker from St. Louis' Incarnate Word Academy the National Player of the Year. One year before, she was our selection for National Junior of the Year and we like to spread the accolades around. But after a year in which she dominated the competition in St. Louis, in Kansas City, in Chicago - everywhere she played - and led her team to an undefeated season, a second consecutive state title in Class 4 and final No. 2 national ranking, she left us no choice: Erin Waller is PrepVolleyball.com's 2004 National Player of the Year.

With all of the outstanding candidates - Foluke Akinradewo, an awesome, unstoppable superpower for Florida 5A champion St. Thomas Aquinas; Kelli Miller, the all-around stud and inspirational leader for Indiana 4A champion Muncie Central; Airial Salvo, the crafty, versatile point maker for Utah 5A champion Viewmont, to name a few - the thinking came down to this: last year's top high school choice for her class played even better this year on a team that played a hellish schedule and yet had an even better season than last year despite significant graduation losses in the hitting corps.

Defenses loaded up to stop Waller and they just couldn't. She pounded opponents to the tune of six kills per game.

'I love watching her cram the ball down on the other team,' said junior middle Hannah Weis. 'She can put it inside the five-foot line!'

In 40 matches, IWA (38-0-2) was forced to play more than two games only twice.

'We only lost two games all year because Erin Waller was on our team,' said Red Knight coach Lisa Orlet. 'Our defense was very strong and a team effort, but Erin is why we won in two games always. Erin was a closer.'As with any Player of the Year, Waller, who will attend Stanford next year, put up impressive statistics. In addition to leading the St. Louis Metro Area in kills for a second straight year, she also had more than 120 blocks for a second year in a row and was third on the team in digs with 280. Had her team been pushed to play more games, her numbers would have reached staggering heights. Waller's serve-receive percentage of 97.3 (10th best in the area) and her 91.96 serve percentage was further testament to the development of her all-around game. As a sophomore, Waller was only a front row menace. She will graduate from Incarnate Word as a complete player, the result of hard work and a single-minded dedication to the game.

Plenty of questions surrounded the Red Knights at the start of the season. Steady setter Caitlin Smith was back and Whitney Behrens and Kasey Mollerus could make up for the loss of graduated back row star Bridget Reidy. But how was IWA going to replace attackers Courtney Hendrickson, Sarah Miller, and Shannon Muesenfechter? Waller was going to have to assume an even larger role in the offense, even if Weis, Emily Wright and Rachel Warrington were able to step into the shoes of the graduated gunners.

In a stunning three-week display, Waller showed everyone she was equal to the task. And she did so in emphatic fashion.

It started one weekend in Kansas City, where Incarnate Word dropped a game to 2002 and 2003 Class 3 state champion O'Hara, but captured the Blue Springs South Tournament, beating many of KC's finest teams from both sides of the border in the process. Waller was the MVP of that tournament.

The following weekend, IWA roared through the Belleville East Metro Classic field, comprised of the best teams from St. Louis, Southwest Illinois and Central Illinois. Waller again was the tournament's outstanding player.

Finally, there was the Mizuno Cup in Chicago, which featured many of the Windy City's best teams plus 2003 national champion Cincinnati St. Ursula. The Red Knights showed they were the best of the best, taking the crown as Waller nabbed her third MVP trophy in as many weeks. Waller never shined more brightly than in the finals against then-unbeaten Barrington and its super duo of Nellie Spicer and Laura Holloway.

'Every ball just went straight down,' Weis said. 'I think it was one of the best games she's ever played.'

'The whole tournament she did some amazing things with the ball,' Orlet added. 'Her athleticism really came out. She worked hard in the weight room during the summer and you could see it paying off: putting balls down the line with little room, changing directions in mid-air to put a ball down with pace that made you say, `Whoa! THAT's the girl going to Stanford!''

As good as Waller is on the court, she's an even better person, a straight A student who takes her studies very seriously, and a friend to all.

'In an all girls school, she's always been a kid who's stood out athletically,' said Orlet. 'Sometimes girls can be jealous of that. Erin leaves no room for that. She doesn't point the finger at herself. Even when she's asking her teammates to pick it up, it's never in a way that's offensive. She gets kids to want to be more like her, because she's such a class act. She knows she doesn't get the sets she gets without the passes and knows she doesn't look as good as she does without her teammates.'

'As a teammate she was inspirational and she is probably the greatest person to play with and be friends with,' added Weis. 'She's just everything. I don't think I could have asked for a better leader on the team or someone to be a friend.

'She has helped me tremendously. She not only helps me learn the game better but also with my personal life. She's such a leader on and off the court.'

A tremendous ambassador for the sport, a fierce competitor who doesn't have to win with intimidation, Erin Waller is a fitting National Player of the Year. Erin, you simply left us with no choice.

courtesy of prepvolleyball.com

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