Olmsted Falls senior Lauren Whyte rebounded from a disappointing 2007 season to help the Bulldogs finish 29-0 and win the Division I state title this year. A talented 6-1 oustide hitter, Whyte registered 516 kills this season, including 36 in the D-I state final. She’s been named the Huntington Bank/Ohio High Volleyball Player of the ear.
Twas the season to be jolly, but not for Lauren Whyte.
As the holidays approached in 2007, the Olmsted Falls junior wasn’t ready to scream out “Ho, Ho, Ho!” Rather, she felt a bit downcast about her performance that year on the volleyball court.
The sport always meant a great deal to Whyte. But she felt she had just let herself and her teammates down. The Bulldogs had lost in the Division I district final, marking the first time in her high school career they hadn’t qualified for regionals.
So she decided to do something about it.
“My junior year was an off-year,” she explains. “I played Junior Olympic volleyball and I focused on becoming more accurate with my swing, achieving a higher vertical and working on my defense because I’ve never been the greatest defensive player.”
The result was a sensational senior season in which Whyte led the Bulldogs to a 29-0 record and Division I state championship. And talk about rising to the occasion – she registered season-highs of 36 kills and 22 digs in the title-match victory over Cincinnati Ursuline Academy.
And that performance sealed the deal for Ohio High Magazine, which selected the 6-foot-1 outside hitter as its Ohio Volleyball Player of the Year.
“We definitely thought at the beginning of the season that a state championship was possible,” says Whyte. “On the first day of practice, we put the words ‘State champs’ on the walls of our team room. That was motivation for us.
“Also, the year before we had lost to Amherst Steele in the district finals and they’re our conference rival. Their coach made the comment that Olmsted Falls is a team that tends to make mistakes. We remembered that quote the entire year. We did definitely make mistakes that year, but we worked hard to prove him wrong this year and we beat Steele three times, including in the district final. It was a great payback.”
Coach Dawn Moses and everyone else affiliated with Olmsted Falls volleyball was quite aware that Whyte could end points in a hurry. But it was the rest of her game that was lacking as the new season approached. And it was the rest of her game that the Bulldogs needed for her to improve if they were going to maximize their potential as a team.
In fact, this was a season of volleyball revelation for Whyte, whom Moses hesitated to use outside the front line in the past. Moses didn’t have faith in her defensively heading into 2008, but she certainly gained trust when the volleyballs began to be struck.
“Lauren wasn’t playing the whole game,” Moses recalls. “She was playing only on offense, then she’d come off the court. But this year she came in committed to playing defense so she could stay on the floor. The defensive part of her game this year was huge.
“As captain of the team, Lauren brought us a mentality that we were never going to lose. Lauren is more like ‘We aren’t going to lose’ rather than “I don’t want to lose.’”
And the Bulldogs didn’t lose all year. In fact, they lost just eight games and won 12 consecutive 3-0 matches around midseason.
Whyte finished the season with a whopping 516 kills. Even more impressive, however, was that she converted on nearly 50 percent of her kill attempts. Now she can soak in a much-deserved award with the satisfaction of knowing she earned it.
“It’s definitely awesome to be chosen and to know that I’ve progressed that much,” she says. “I never thought I’d get something like this, but I have to thank my coaches and teammates, because they played a huge role in it. I can’t thank them enough.”
Division I college scouts certainly took notice. The result of Whyte’s dominance was a scholarship to George Washington University. Whyte also received offers from area schools such as Akron and Kent State, but after a trip to GW, it was all over but the signing.
It’s not that she preferred to attend school further from home. But George Washington not only offered strong volleyball competition, but studying in the nation’s capital will prove to be the perfect environment for Whyte to become engrossed in her major – international business.
“I really like D.C.,” she says. “My decision was not so much based on being farther from home as it was just finding the right school.”
Moses believes the folks at George Washington will be impressed by the attributes Whyte will bring to the volleyball program and academic world.
“She’s compassionate, she’s focused, she’s determined and she’s dedicated,” Moses says. “Those are all qualities Lauren has in abundance.”
As for the 2008 holiday season, well, it can again be a merry Christmas for Lauren Whyte.