PREP VOLLEYBALL: Central Hardin's King is a force in the middle (09/16)

-A A +A
By Ryan O'Gara

One day in eighth grade, Central Hardin junior Taylor King and a few friends were messing around with a volleyball in gym class.

King admits she was awful – it was her first time playing – and her friends agreed. Then they took it one step further, telling King if she tried out for the volleyball team, she wouldn’t make it.

Her friends were joking, but King took them up on it.

“It made me want to do it, just to prove I could,” King said.

Needless to say, King made the team and three years later, she has developed into one of the elite players – and possibly the best middle hitter – in the 5th Region and is a driving force behind the Lady Bruins’ quest to win their fourth straight region crown.

Before the season, Central Hardin coach Bill Rineker speculated King could be one of the best middle hitters Central Hardin has ever had. A month into a season in which Central Hardin is 13-2 and ranked 24th in the latest Kentucky Volleyball Coaches Association poll, Rineker feels even stronger.

“I can honestly say she is the best middle that Central has ever had – period, bar-none,” Rineker said.

King dominates games like few high school players can. At 5-foot-11, she has the requisite height and wingspan to affect opposing hitters. Rineker likened King to a pogo stick because of how quickly she can jump and recover during a rally, and King’s teammates agree.

“She always has good timing when she’s blocking. It seems like she’s never off – she’s always just there,” said Central Hardin junior outside hitter Lauren Christman.

King has 55 blocks this season, including 33 solo, which is the fourth most in the state. But numbers don’t even begin to illustrate King’s impact on a match because hitters have to adjust how they attack Central Hardin’s defense. That often results in balls hit into the net or well over the backline.

Even if hitters do manage to avoid King’s block, she takes away so much of the court and that makes the game much easier for back row players like junior libero Brittany Brangers, freshman setter Mariah Helton and Christman.

King said she looks for where the player is set up to determine how she directs her block. For example, the further a player is pushed out, the more likely she is to take away the cross.

“I think it just kind of came naturally,” King said of grasping blocking technique. “My dad always talks to me about angles and geometry. I’m kind of a nerd with math.”

To play volleyball in high school, King had to give up soccer – a sport she had played since she was little – since the two are both played in the fall.

King insists she’s not athletic and doesn’t possess the coordination to play basketball, but she picked up volleyball quickly.

“I honestly don’t understand how she did it, but she did it so quickly,” Christman said. “She was doing well in eighth grade and it was her first year. Freshman year, sophomore year and now this year, she has done an awesome job.”

Around midseason of her sophomore year, King cracked the varsity lineup and rotated at outside hitter since All-Area selections Sydney Hall and Alneisha Butler had the middle covered.

Moving to the middle full-time this season has shown just how dynamic King can be. She has 102 kills, which is 22nd in the state, and though she doesn’t play all the way around, Rineker said King is capable of playing in the back row, too.

“She amazes me daily,” Rineker said. “What I love about her is she is so calm, cool and collected. She never gets rattled and goes about everything so business-like. You know exactly what you’re going to get. As a coach, there is nothing better than knowing you’ll get top-notch performance.”

As talented as she is, playing volleyball in college isn’t a sure thing for King. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise many if she didn’t play. King has dreams of becoming a doctor and nothing, including volleyball, will get in the way of that goal.

“I would never want to compromise my education for volleyball, as much as I do love it because it’s my favorite thing,” King said. “But at the same time, if I get a full ride to a good school for academics, and they don’t offer me to play volleyball, I would take that over a school with not great at academics where I could play volleyball. I still have time left to decide.”

And according to Rineker, that tells you all you need to know about King’s character.

“It’s not like she’s working hard because she wants to play badly in college. She just overachieves in everything,” Rineker said. “That says a lot about the type of person she is.”

For now, King – along with Christman – will keep leading a Lady Bruins team which lost nine seniors from last year. The preseason consensus was Central Hardin may be ripe for the picking this season, but King has been a big reason why that just hasn’t been the case.

“It’s been a major adjustment. We’re still all getting used to it and working out the kinks and stuff,” King said. “It’s been nerve-wracking at times with all of us being so young.

“I’ve just had so much fun this season – it’s been great,” she added. “It’s not only playing that makes it fun – our team makes it fun.”

With King dominating the middle, the fun for the Lady Bruins could continue deep into the postseason yet again.

Ryan O’Gara can be reached at 270-505-1754 or rogara@thenewsenterprise.com.