Prep Volleyball: Arienne Stephens becoming a killer at the net for Lincoln County
Junior Arienne Stephens has become one of the area's most imposing players because of her blocking ability. Tonight she hopes to help Lincoln County beat Burgin in the 12th Region Tournament at Mercer County. (Mike Marsee / October 15, 2012)
Stephens always seems to be smiling on the volleyball court these days, in part because she’s having the time of her life. She is a rapidly improving player on one of the area’s best teams, coming into her own just in time to help her Lincoln County team do the same.
The junior middle blocker has become something of a killer at the net for Lincoln, even if she doesn’t always look the part. She has the size and is developing the skill set, but the smile distracts from the fact that she has become one of the area’s most imposing players.
So why is she smiling all the time?
“I just love the sport and I love my team, and it’s just fun,” Stephens said.
Volleyball has never been more fun than it is now for Stephens, who last week helped Lincoln (15-14) complete its rebound from a 2-6 start to win its first district championship in six years and this week will try to help the Patriots make a run in the 12th Region Tournament starting with tonight’s match against Burgin at Mercer County.
This is her third year on the team and the first in which she has been on the court for varsity matches, and in the relatively short span of a single season she has developed shot-blocking skills that opponents must account for whenever they are plotting their offensive attack.
It doesn’t hurt that Stephens stands 6-foot-4, because that makes it easy for her to rise above the net to meet opposing players’ spikes. But she has also worked to utilize her height to help Lincoln’s defense.
“A lot of practice,” she said.
Those skills were evident in Lincoln’s win over Boyle County in the 45th District Tournament final, when Stephens had eight blocks in a three-set match. She said her coach, Amanda Massey-Wiles has been the key to her sudden improvement.
“Coach has helped me a lot. She works with me and teaches me as much as she can, and every play I look at her and she gives me advice to do something better,” she said. “(She) is always there to tell me what to do, give me advice, because she played the same position I do.”
Massey-Wiles said Stephens has become much more comfortable on the court this season.
“I think Arienne’s really come into her own,” the Lincoln coach said. “As she becomes more comfortable with her teammates and with the sport, she’s been able to utilize her skills, and it’s a very important thing when a player is able to let go of restraint on the court. I think she’s able to really rely on her instincts and play hard.”
Massey-Wiles is the one who talked Stephens into coming out for the team in the first place.
“Coach was always telling me I need to play because of my height,” Stephens said. “I’ve always been tall.”
Stephens had no experience, but that’s the case for just about everyone who joins the team at Lincoln.
“She’s still relatively new to the sport compared to the girls that have been playing since middle school, but Lincoln County has no feeder prog, so most of our team is considered young experience-wise ... and I think that is something that’s a testament to our drive, our determination and good attitude, because we are taking group of girls that start a couple years behind nearly everyone we compete against, and they’ve moved past that to win things like district titles.”
Stephens has made a major move since last season, but she said she still has much room to improve. Her offensive skills don’t yet match the way she plays defense, and she said she knows she needs to work on her hitting.
“I definitely need to work on getting more power,” she said.
On the other hand, she said defense is her favorite part of the game, and she has come to realize that she often has edge even before the players across the net from her take a swing.
“Just my height intimidates people,” she said.
And she said there’s nothing quite like the feeling of making a big block to snuff out an opponent’s momentum.
“It feels amazing, I don’t think about it, I just do it, and I think about my team and how I want to help them,” Stephens said.