Times Sports Editor
Sometimes the smaller conferences are overlooked when colleges visit to mine the local talent. However, the Southwestern Indiana Athletic Conference (SWIAC) has become a target for Vincennes University's volleyball program.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Crusaders and long-time coach Tina Miller signed another SWIAC recruit in Clay City senior, Lynsey Higgins.
Higgins is the third player from the conference to join the team as Linton's Megan Barnes is a sophomore on the 2010 Vincennes team and Bloomfield's Leairra Thompson is also a sophomore. The Wabash Valley is also well represented as Terre Haute South's Jessica Chichester is a freshman on the roster and Owen Valley's Sidney Stines are also on Vincennes.
Assistant coach Mike Misner is also a product of the SWIAC as he was the head coach at Linton for five years and from 2002 through 2004 compiled a 45-6.
Miller, who has coached Vincennes more than 25 years, is the all-time leader in program wins and led the Crusaders to a fourth-place finish in the 2006 National Tournament after a 55-9 season. Miller believes that finding local talent is a key to the program's success and is important for the fan support.
"Well, I think there is the opportunity for parents and family to come and see their kids play without traveling extremely long distances and that's always a plus," Miller said. "We always feed on that support when we travel to away matches where sometimes if parents aren't there then we don't have hardly any fans. It's an opportunity for them to continue to see their kids play. We have pockets of talent in this area that go untapped especially with the smaller schools where you might have an outstanding player like Lynsey (Higgins) that sometimes get overlooked. We seek that out (at Vincennes)."
Higgins finished the 2010 season with a team-high 358 kills and added 74 solo blocks for a team that reached the sectional final and lost a heartbreaking five-game match to Shakamak. Though Higgins doesn't boast the prototypical size of an outside hitter, Miller believes she'll fit in perfectly at the position when she gets to Vincennes next fall.
"Her natural athletic ability (is what attracted Vincennes to recruit Higgins)," Miller said. "She's got a pretty heavy swing for someone, especially her size. She's going to be competing for a starting spot as a freshman."
While Vincennes had an uncharacteristically down season with a 19-20 overall mark this year, Miller believes that Higgins can come in and contribute immediately.
"She'll probably fit in on the strong side, the left side (at Vincennes). What we're planning to do with two of our hitters we have right now is to move them to the right side next year. Number one because they are both pretty good blockers, and two, because they maybe weren't as consistent as they need to be," Miller said. "We need someone over there that is a little bit more reliable and has better shot selection. (Higgins) understands that it's not always all about power, but about placement as well. She has a versatility of offensive options."
Clay City coach Lu Anne Anderson also feels that having a player advance to the collegiate level is a positive influence for the Clay City program.
"I think it's a great boost for our program," Anderson said. "Anytime you can have a player go on to the next level, it helps the girls that are still in your program and even the younger girls see there is a chance, even though they play for a smaller school, to move on and play college volleyball. I think it's great (Lynsey) has worked hard ever since she was in elementary school and she deserves it."
Anderson also believes that Higgins' athletic ability will allow her to succeed quickly at Vincennes.
"Just looking at her, you wouldn't expect her to have such tremendous power and jumping ability, but her athleticism totally makes up for any lack of height," Anderson said.
"I think volleyball has come a long way in this area," Anderson said. "It used to be, 10 or 15 years ago, we didn't have a lot of club programs or girls playing all year round. However, now we're moving in that direction and we have girls playing all year and moving on to play college volleyball and a lot of them are going to Vincennes. I think that speaks volumes about volleyball in the area and how it has built up."