Column: Why Staci Brower will win GLIAC Freshman of the Year
On the opening day of the 2015 season, the word was already starting to spread about a new face on the Grand Valley State volleyball team.
As Lakers went through their routine hitting drill in warm-ups against Carson-Newman on Sept. 4, one of the floor-moppers turned to his friend sitting behind him in the bleachers.
“Did you see that? Watch No. 21.”
Right on cue, freshman Staci Brower spiked another ball straight down. A couple of teammates even took notice, and shouted, “There you go Staci.”
The man holding the mop glanced back at his friend again and shook his head.
As we close in on the end of the season, the middle blocker out of Byron Center, Michigan is still turning heads. I've been tracking GVSU volleyball all season and haven’t seen another freshman in the conference make a bigger impact than Brower has for the Lakers this year.
The competition is fierce, but I think Brower has the credentials to become the fifth GLIAC Freshman of the Year in GVSU program history.
Brower is fourth in the GLIAC in solo blocks (21) and total blocks (82), and fifth in blocks per set (1.04). She also is eighth-best in the conference in kills per set (3.01), with a respectable .300 hitting percentage.
The last Laker to led GVSU in kills and blocks in a single season, like Brower is doing now, was senior Rebeccah Rapin in 2010. Rapin holds the school all-time record in total blocks and won the GLIAC Freshman of the Year in 2007, and is clearly elite company to hold.
Defensively, Brower’s closest rival is Ohio Dominican’s Rebecca Skidmore (6 solo blocks, 61 total blocks, 0.94 blocks per set), but she doesn’t have near the offensive prowess that Brower does.
Strong consideration will be given to Findlay’s setter Hailee Olson. I’d say she is Brower’s biggest threat as she currently leads the conference in assists (948).
A setter, however, hasn’t won the award since Kari Clapham of Mercyhurst in 2002.
It’s a telling sign that the hitters generally get more praise because, let’s be honest, kills and blocks are more exciting than lazily floating sets.
Findlay also took the award last season with middle blocker Nickyla Garverick. Northern Michigan was the last school to have GLIAC Freshman of the Year winners in consecutive seasons, having done so in 1999 and 2000.
History isn’t on Olson’s side, which is at least worth noting.
I can’t deny that Olson has all-around solid numbers for a setter. Along with her assists, she has 95 digs, 39 kills, 33 total blocks and 30 aces. But, box scores only tell part of the story.
Brower is dominating force in the middle of the floor with the rare ability to turn up the intensity when it matters most. When Brower is on her game, look out. She's nigh on unstoppable.
All season, GVSU head coach Deanne Scanlon has been adamant about getting her team to step up and perform under pressure late in sets. Brower has been one of the few players to actually do so on a regular basis, having factored into 16 set-winning points.
To put that into perceptive, in 30.8 percent of the sets GVSU has won (52) this season, Brower either dropped in a kill or made a block to end the frame – by far the best on the team.
Not every stat is equal. Being memorable and having intangible qualities also goes a long way.
A couple weeks into the season and sophomore setter Katie Olson told me without hesitation that Brower was the hardest hitter on the team. I can't disagree with her. I don’t think any of her teammates would. The floor-mopper certainly didn't.
The praise for Brower is extremely high, considering senior Betsy Ronda held that distinct reputation for a long time, and rightfully so, as she has put down more than 1,100 kills in her career.
Seemingly overnight, Brower went from newcomer having to be identified by her jersey number to GVSU’s most prolific hitter, a feeling Ronda is all-too-familiar with. Ronda was the last Laker to be named GLIAC Freshman of the Year in 2012.
It will be a symbolic passing of the torch from senior to freshman if history repeats itself. Brower may have her named etched next to Ronda in the GVSU volleyball record book sooner rather than later.