News-Argus Volleyball Player of the Year: Anna Wilkins
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on December 7, 2006 1:47 PM
A four-year varsity letterwinner, Anna Wilkins felt confident Eastern Wayne would excel on the volleyball court this season.
A sleepover at her house helped prove her theory.
"Everybody came," laughed Wilkins, who recalled previous get-togethers which ended in disappointing fashion. "I remember my freshman and sophomore year, we just weren't a team and everybody was playing for themselves.
"This year, it wasn't someone trying to do better than someone else. We played and wanted to win as a team."
That team unity, according to Wilkins, proved crucial and spearheaded one of the Warriors' most-successful campaigns since the school opened in the early 1960s. Eastern Wayne posted a program-best 17 victories with sixth-year head coach Bruce Burridge and earned a share of the Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference regular-season championship -- the first in school history.
Wilkins and her teammates completed the sweep with an ECC tournament crown, also a program first. Their record-setting season ended with a third-round loss in the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs.
Not surprisingly, Wilkins anticipated a banner year.
"Every season I always expect us to do really well," said Wilkins, who has been selected the 2006 News-Argus Volleyball Player of the Year.
Her confident manner received a boost with the arrivals of transfer Brittanni Billups and Las Vegas native Jordei Osby. The duo meshed well with setter Brooke Newsome, libero Anna Hajjar and middle hitter Carly Boyette.
The sky, indeed, was the limit.
"You could tell Brittanni and Jordei were athletic at tryouts," said a grinning Wilkins. "I was pretty excited. With Brooke setting and Anna at libero, it just kind of all fit."
And Wilkins, a two-time team MVP, led the way.
The 6-foot middle hitter established school records for single-season kills (192) and blocks (85). She shares the kill mark with Billups, who was named the ECC co-player of the year and she tied for blocks with Osby.
Wilkins is the only player in program history to hold two records.
"She was a strong leader on and off the court," said Burridge. "Whenever asked to do something, she never questioned it. She just did it."
Wilkins credits her improvement in hitting and blocking not only to the instructors at the Carolina and Nike camps, but assistant coach Holly Van Hofwegen as well. Hofwegen consistently drilled Wilkins on the fundamentals of blocking and passing on a daily basis.
"She helped everybody out, but I learned smaller things that helped me a great deal," said Wilkins. "For me, the small things were really big like footwork on blocking, not dropping my shoulders when I pass the ball and blocking closer at the net."
Wilkins also blossomed as a leader.
When her teammates struggled to make plays, she always smiled and cheered for them to pick their heads up.
"I smiled a lot and sometimes that got me in trouble," quipped Wilkins. "It was easy (to be captain) because I think the players had respect for me since I had been on varsity since my freshman year.
"I didn't try to put myself on a pedestal. They knew I was trying to lead them, not be above them."
Wilkins said the team found its confidence when it lost a five-set match at ECC rival Wilson Beddingfield. The Warriors reeled off 11 consecutive wins, including a pair of decisions over the Bruins, after the road defeat.
"Having the confidence that we took them to five games helped us in our other matches," said Wilkins. "We felt like we could beat anybody. At least, that's how I thought of it."
Eastern Wayne eliminated Western Alamance and West Craven from the playoffs before dropping a four-set match against South Central. The players shed tears and shared hugs, but once the disappointment of losing subsided, each realized the role she played on the program's most-successful team.
Wilkins certainly won't forget.
"We had a great time on the court and off the court," said Wilkins, who plans to enter the pharmacy field at UNC. "It was so much fun and I miss it so much already.
"I think we sort of set the bar really high for next year's team. They know they can do it. They will ... hopefully."
Editor's note: Player of the Year finalists -- Courtney Hill (Rosewood), Brittanni Billups (EW), Charlie Garten (Southern Wayne), Heather Hudson (North Duplin), Stephanie Daughtry (Princeton) and Jazzmine Lee (C.B. Aycock).
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