Wednesday, May 2, 2012
2011 LARGE-SCHOOLS VOLLEYBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Edwardsville's Sam Epenesa
January 18, 2012 12:48 AM
By GREG SHASHACK
She is a prep All-American, considered among the top 50 girls volleyball players in the country.
The statistics can spin your head, but Purdue women's volleyball coach Dave Shondell does not bother to recite any.
"What I like the most about Sam Epenesa," Shondell said, "is probably just her personality and who she is."
She the daughter of two former college athletes. She is a 6-foot senior at Edwardsville High School. She is an honor roll student, with hopes of being a doctor. And Sam Epenesa is a three-time Telegraph Large-Schools Volleyball Player of the Year.
Epenesa is the first to reach 1,000 career kills for the Tigers. With Epenesa as a four-year starter, Edwardsville won 122 matches, four Southwestern Conference, four regional and three sectional championships along with a third-place finish in the Class 4A state finals in 2010.
"To be a part of that," Epenesa said, "is pretty cool."
Shondell calls her "a super leaper" and "a dynamic player" who hits the ball as hard as any high school senior he saw in 2011.
"And she brings personality-plus with it," Shondell said. "Her dad was a football player at the University of Iowa. She has some of that mentality that her dad had. She's a no-nonsense player and loves to beat you."
Purdue was ranked No. 8 in the nation at the close of a 29-5 season that ended with a Sweet 16 loss to Florida. Epenesa committed to the Boilermakers before her junior year at Edwardsville and signed a letter-of-intent last November. And she fits the Purdue prototype.
"That has been the biggest thing, to me, that has turned our program here from a good program to border-line great is not the athleticism of our current players, but the character and the personality and the desire and the enthusiasm to be in the gym and get better," Shondell said. "You'll see the same thing from Sam Epenesa. She has that love for the sport. … She puts the passion on her sleeve and competes like a bulldog. I think she'll be a fan favorite here at Purdue."
She was that and more at Edwardsville. Epenesa's 1,250 kills are a school record. She is second all-time with 184 aces and third with 151 block assists.
There are other big numbers, but they cannot do justice to Epenesa's impact on Edwardsville volleyball. Spectacular was the baseline and her performance would rise - or, yes, occasionally fall - from there.
The Tigers' hopes of returning to the Class 4A Final Four were dashed one victory short when Lisle Benet Academy, ranked No. 11 nationally, overpowered No. 67 ranked Edwardsville in a super-sectional match in Normal.
"There is always that feeling of wishing you could have gone further," Epenesa said, "but I am just so proud to be a part of Edwardsville volleyball."
The Tigers schedule included seven matches against teams ranked among the nation's top 100. And they played six matches against teams that would go on to win state championships.
And never could you not make a compelling case that Epenesa was not the best player on the court.
"Sam is definitely one of the best players that I've ever seen or come across," Edwardsville coach Jami Parker said. "You're blessed to find someone who is a tremendous defensive player or offensive player. In Sam, we had both of those together as well as a tremendous team leader. She's a one in a million player."