By Jake Knabel, Sports Information Director
After starring on the volleyball court as a prep at Exeter-Milligan High School, Claire White moved onto NCAA Division II Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., to play for a strong Ichabods program in the fall of 2012. As a freshman, she never quite found her comfort zone and decided to seek increased playing time in a setting closer to her hometown of Exeter, Neb.
More than anything, the competitive, former all-Nebraska high school player simply needed more time on the court.
“It just kind of came down to playing time,” White said. “I knew that coming back to Nebraska would be a lot more comfortable for me. Concordia was an easy choice because my hometown is 40 minutes away and my parents live 20 (minutes away). So it was really easy to give Concordia a look, and it really worked out.”
Now in her first season at Concordia, White has transitioned quickly to her new surroundings. The sophomore has stepped into the role of outside hitter for head coach Scott Mattera with impressive results. Her very first match in a Bulldog uniform resulted in 11 kills and a tidy three-set victory over Northwood University (Fla.).
Since then, White has simply continued to drill volleyballs to the floor at a rate that rivals the top players in the conference. On Sept. 3 she was even named the first GPAC overall Player of the Week of the 2013 season after piling up 60 kills over a three-match stretch.
She’s the type of player Concordia can build the program around over the next few years. She’s also the type of player that opponents will always have to account for considering the fastballs she peppers all over the opposition’s half of the floor.
Says White of being looked upon as a major boost to the program: “It’s kind of a little pressure. It’s definitely something that I didn’t see coming and I’ve had to deal with a little bit now since school started and we’ve had home games. It’s exciting. It’s a little pressure that I didn’t see coming, but it’s exciting.”
Mattera believes the benefits are mutual in regards to White’s arrival at Concordia. The Bulldogs’ second-year head coach feared how the addition of a new star could cause issues within the locker room, but those worries quickly evaporated.
“To be honest, I was scared,” Mattera said. “With or without her, we are building something special. When you bring in a major player and big personality like Claire so late in the year, there is a lot of risk in terms of chemistry and changing roles within the program. We were very careful about the process we took to decide and after several meetings, conversations, and quite a bit of prayer, it became obvious that this was a huge blessing for us but more importantly, for her.”
White’s personality proved to be a good fit as she got acclimated with her new teammates over the summer. Plus she filled a hole brought about by the graduation of 2012 first team all-conference outside hitter Amanda Kisker.
“Over the summer it was kind of a process of learning everybody’s names and meeting new people,” White said. “The team was awesome. They couldn’t have been more accepting of me with me being one of the only people to transfer onto the team. It was really new to them too. I give them a lot of credit for being so accepting.”
The hospitality offered up by her Bulldog teammates has made everything easier for White, who says she feels like a freshman all over again.
“I’m learning everything from scratch,” White said. “I’m learning the ins and outs of the school and the team. I’m getting used to my new teammates, and getting used to my new coach has been really awesome. It’s been a super easy transition so far. We’re having a great season, so basically the transition’s been pretty easy and pretty good.”
White’s transfer to Concordia has come with obvious benefits for Mattera and the program. White leads the team with 144 kills, averaging 3.43 per set. She has three matches already this season with 20 or more kills.
“Claire has impacted us in so many ways,” Mattera said. “Obviously her talent level is a big help as she really fit our need in terms of an outside that can terminate but also pass in all six rotations. But it’s so much more than that. Claire is a strong-willed winner who brings a toughness to us that we were lacking and are still developing, and she manages to bring that hard-nosed mentality without stepping on toes.”
White credits her mother with helping her develop many of these positive traits that Mattera speaks of. White was coached by her mother, Darcy, all four years at Exeter-Milligan. Together, mother and daughter produced astounding success, winning two state titles while also posting a runner-up finish during Claire’s high school career for the Timberwolves.
With her mother’s encouragement, Claire began swatting volleyballs around as a mere toddler. Claire has been groomed to be a volleyball player since a young age.
“She is 100 percent the reason I’m the player that I am,” Claire said of her mother. “I started playing volleyball when I was like two-years-old because of her. She started training me when I was super little. I give her 100 percent credit because she’s been there every step of the way and she’s the reason I’m here today playing volleyball.”
Darcy and the rest of Claire’s family are a fixture at Bulldog matches. Even though Darcy no longer coaches Claire, she is always there to provide her daughter with advice.
“Oh yeah,” Claire responded when asked if her mother still talks to her like a coach after matches. “Even if she doesn’t want to, I always ask for advice because I value her opinion highly and I see the game through the same ideas as she does. It gives me a lot of good insight to have someone in the stands watching who can give me good advice.”
As advanced and as dominant as Claire looks at times, it’s easy to forget that she’s just a sophomore. That means bad news for the hardwood inside Walz Arena. Now in her comfort zone, Claire’s powerful right arm has many more floor-pounding kills left in it.