There’s no doubt about it. Waubonsie Valley senior Rachel Minarick, the Beacon-News Volleyball Player of the Year, is pretty darn good.
“She’s a complete volleyball player,” Warriors coach Kristen Stuart said of the 6-foot-2 standout setter/right-side hitter who led her team to a regional title and a school-record 30 wins in the last of her four varsity seasons.
“She’s a leader … always encouraging the other girls to do better … a great physical player and very smart … extremely quick … efficient with her movement.”
That’s why Minarick — rated No. 22 nationally among PrepVolleyball.com’s Senior Aces — headlines a three-girl recruiting class for Michigan State coach Cathy George, whose 20th-ranked Spartans are one of eight Big Ten teams opening NCAA Tournament play this weekend.
“Rachel is one of the top setting prospects in the country. Her natural skill and athletic talent stand out and her ability to block and attack will make her a force to be reckoned with,” said George, who first noticed Minarick playing with her Sports Performance team following her freshman season.
George offered her a scholarship a year later, and Minarick was quick to commit and made good on it, signing last month.
Don’t think, however, setting a volleyball with precision and finesse came naturally Minarick, whose accolades are the result of serious, dedicated hard work.
“In seventh grade I was pretty tall and playing hitter for a smaller club,” Minarick noted. “One of the coaches said, ‘You have pretty good hands, have you ever thought about setting?’”
She tried it and liked it. But when she moved to Sports Performance the next season, she got a wakeup call upon meeting coach Troy Gilb.
“The first time he saw me he said, ‘You’re hands are horrendous,’” she recalled. “He taught me a lot about setting and footwork. He worked with me every day, hands and technique, and has been one of the biggest influences on me.”
Gilb chuckles at the reminder.
“I told her I wanted to poke my eyes out after watching the way she poked at the ball [when trying to set it],” he said. “Her feet weren’t very good, either. We had to get her technically right, but she worked hard at it.”
Combined with her excellent athleticism, progress came. Gilb’s sessions last club season included having Minarick work with last year’s Gatorade National Player of the Year, Lauren Carlini, on drills designed specially for them.
“[Minarick] has developed so much the last four years,” said Gilb. “Rachel is really good and I don’t think people understand how good she is. She’s been somewhat under the radar. She sets with great accuracy and great location and puts the ball where it needs to be.”
This season she moved seamlessly from a 5-1 to 6-2 offense when Stuart needed to take advantage of her hitting prowess.
It resulted in an area-best 377 kills on .487 hitting efficiency to go with 468 assists. The player who added eight inches to her vertical jump over the past four years also had 107 blocks, 157 digs and 44 aces.
“I’m already getting emotional,” Stuart said in a preseason interview. “It’s a big deal to have a player on your team all four years, especially a setter. She’s such a good kid and hard worker. She goes to club and comes back better every single year. She’s a huge difference maker.”