Senior middle hitter Kelly Hopkins and freshman outside hitter Jessica Lindsey jump up to block a ball from opponent Eastern Michigan on Oct. 3 at Worthen Arena. DN PHOTO SAMANTHA BRAMMER
WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL: Hopkins embraces expanded role
Editor's note: Kelly Hopkins was a graphics reporter for the Daily News in the spring of 2014.
In late match situations, the outcome usually comes down to one or two crucial plays.
Being in the right place at the right time can sometimes be enough, but for Ball State women’s volleyball player Kelly Hopkins, her play has gone beyond just luck.
“There’s something about [Hopkins], she delivers at crunch time,” head coach Steve Shondell said. “Throwing balls back in the court, she just seems to have a knack to put the ball where there’s no defensive players.”
A redshirt junior, Hopkins has waited patiently for her opportunity to play big-time minutes.
After redshirting her freshman year, she only played in 12 matches as a redshirt freshman.
“Although I wasn’t playing on the court, just being able to practice and learn so much just about the college game and from Steve [Shondell] ... has really helped me to grow as a player,” Hopkins said.
During her redshirt sophomore year, Hopkins played in 21 matches, starting in six. While she received increased playing time, she still played in less than half of the team’s possible sets.
This season, the middle blocker and opposite side attacker has solidified her position, playing in 59 sets, already surpassing the 49 sets she played in last year.
Her 146 kills rank second on the team and are more than she recorded her first two seasons combined.
“We were hoping [Hopkins] would evolve into a go-to player,” Shondell said. “Hoping and doing it are two different things, and she has really become someone we can count on.”
Ball State has counted on Hopkins heavily lately, as she has come through in crunch time throughout the season.
A native of Kokomo, Ind., Hopkins produced multiple clutch blocks and kills late in matches against Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan, including recording the match-winning kill in the deciding fifth set against the Eagles.
“You can’t be timid, you can’t have the thoughts in your head ‘I can’t hit this in the net,’ ‘I can’t get blocked’ or ‘I can’t serve this out of bounds,’” Hopkins said. “You have to go out there with the mentality that you are going to make that play, and I think that’s taken my game to a whole new level.”
With experience comes confidence, and Hopkins said her confidence level is “definitely” up this year.
After splitting time with Lauren Grant last season, Hopkins’ mindset changed knowing she would be placed in a more prominent role.
“All through preseason and everything, knowing I had that role made me focus more on improving every day,” Hopkins said. “I knew that I had to be confident to go out there and play.”
Hopkins’ confidence level has been on full display as of late, recording 42 kills in the past three matches, all against Mid-American Conference opponents. She has also hit efficiently, posting a .438 attack percentage to go along with the sound defensive play she has provided.
More importantly, she has helped Ball State rise above .500 at 9-8, a mark the team has been under since Sept. 12. At 3-1 in conference, the Cardinals currently own sole possession of second place in the MAC West Division.
Hopkins will look to continue her breakout campaign, as Ball State continues conference play. The Cardinals expectations of winning the MAC haven’t changed, and Hopkins said the team is taking it one match at a time.
With Hopkins and others playing at such a high level, Ball State has been able to improve execution, winning six of its last eight matches.
“I think if we continue to play like we are, having both our offense and defense there, we are unstoppable,” she said. “When we’re all playing with confidence and all doing our job, we’re unstoppable.”