West Life on Campus
By Ryan Kaczmarski
Eastern Kentucky University freshman Rachel Vick, a Bay High School graduate, has started every match and played in every set for the Colonels, a Division I program, this season.
“It’s cool. It’s definitely a great opportunity for me,” Vick said of starting as a freshman. “It’s been challenging, but at the same time, I do think having this experience, so young into my career, will definitely help me develop into a new and better player.”
EKU has taken to a youth movement this season, starting two freshmen every match.
“Rachel starts as one of our middle blockers, and we have another freshman, from Florida, who also has played in every game, either as a setter or as a defensive player,” EKU head coach Lori Duncan said. “We’ve got two true freshmen on the roster and both of them play significant roles.
“Typically, when we’ve brought in freshmen – if we have a class of three or four, we are hoping truly that half the class will be able to contribute immediately; if we have a small class, we’d like them all to be in right away,” Duncan added. “When we brought both of them in, we knew that they were going to create a talent set that we didn’t have and that we needed to utilize. It’s not unusual to play freshmen, but we don’t do it every year, either.”
For Vick, there were many adjustments that she needed to make to be able to be successful in Division I college volleyball.
“Probably just getting mentally tough was the hardest thing,” Vick said. “You’re playing more volleyball than you’ve ever played (in high school). There are more workouts and training and more intensity than you’ve ever been through. It’s really just a matter of who can stick it out and stay strong through the whole (season).”
“I think the transition – when you’re looking at a Division I institution – the level of commitment and the things that one is required to do, maybe they haven’t done as a club or as a high school athlete,” Duncan said. “The level of conditioning and training is a lot higher than what they are probably used to.
“We are practicing every day that we are not competing, and we only have one day off, which is usually Sunday.”
According to Vick, the extra conditioning is needed to just get through the season.
“Going all the way through, from the first week of August until now, has been a crazy-long season, that I really didn’t anticipate,” she said. “But at the same time, it’s definitely going to make me stronger, if I can push through past it.”
Playing varsity sports in a Division I program can also affect an athlete’s study habits and academics overall, with all of the travel, practices and matches throughout the week.
“I talk to my professors before we leave for a weekend, and they’ll e-mail me the work I need to accomplish,” Vick said. “I can get it done on the bus most of the time, especially when we have a really long – seven- or eight-hour – ride. My professors have been really good about that, so I’ve been keeping up all right.”
The fact that Vick is a freshman has not kept her from becoming a team leader.
“Every team has a different dynamic, and this team – it took a little bit to get used to it – but now that I have got the hang of things, it’s going really well and all the girls are really supporting me, even though I am a freshman and getting a ton of playing time.”
When the season started, Vick was thrown into the mix right away against top schools like Michigan State and Notre Dame.
“At first, I was intimidated just by hearing the names of the schools we were playing against,” she said. “But once I got into the matches and started competing against those players, I realized that it’s doable. Any team can beat any team on any given day. It’s just a matter of who ‘shows up’ to play.”
Vick was a two-time All-West Shore Conference selection while playing volleyball at Bay High School, and in her senior season, she was chosen as the conference MVP and first team All-District. She set the Bay High School match records with 25 kills and eight aces. In the classroom, she was a four-year member of the honor roll and a member of the National Honor Society. At EKU, she is studying occupational therapy.