The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Sports

November 29, 2013

Monique Harris is Herald's volleyball player of the year

Harris leads a seven-player All-Area first team

CLINTON — Every sport carries with it some competitive drama, spectacle and players who perform well enough to stand out. Then there are players who rise above the others. It’s almost never universal, but the general consensus for these athletes is that they “pass the eye test.”

In the case of Clinton High, over the past four years, there was a volleyball player who routinely raised the eyebrows. Whether she was ripping jump serves, shutting down the best hitters in the state, making the diving save or providing just the right touch in the most unique way, Monique Harris – senior setter for the River Queens – continually amazed her fans.

On Oct. 31, her last day playing for the River Queens, Harris attended school with a doppelganger. A classmate dressed as her for Halloween, speaking to the kind of hype she’s drawn from supporters.

“Mo is the first athlete in Clinton High that I’m aware of that that’s happened,” said Mark Massey, Harris’ head coach for three seasons and co-head coach this year. “That sort of indicates the respect and affection with which she’s held.”

Massey is full of “Mo-isms.” Like the fact that Harris is the first four-year all-around starter in River Queens history, and he has numerous first-person accounts of plays where Harris dissected an opponent with split-second but heady reactions.

While the hard numbers back her up – all-time school record-holder in assists and aces, four-time All-Mississippi Athletic Conference selection – Massey won’t go so far as to call Harris the “best ever.” He gave a pretty glowing endorsement, though:

“Throughout Eastern Iowa, if you ask the average fan or student at Clinton, DeWitt, Bettendorf or Pleasant Valley or wherever – if you asked them who is the best player, their go-to might be to say someone from their school,” Massey said. “But if you said, ‘I mean anywhere,’ my guess is they’re going to say, ‘Oh, … well, it’s Mo-Mo.’ “

In making Harris this year’s Volleyball Player of the Year, the Clinton Herald echoes these sentiments.

Harris leads a seven-player All-Area first team that also features teammate Erin Wenzel, Camanche’s Libby Schnoor and Kylie Vogel, Calamus-Wheatland’s McKenna Luepker, Fulton’s Betsy Leonard and Erie’s Courtney Cobert. The Herald selected four teams this year as well as honorable mention players. Each team featured two outsides, a setter, a middle, a libero or defensive specialist and a serving specialist.

The final slot, though – “utility player” – embodies to Massey the kind of traits Harris brings to the table. The position is meant to highlight athletes who excel in several skill sets, which in Harris’ case looks like 80 kills, 35 total blocks, 654 assists, 67 aces and 282 digs. Serving numbers are particularly head scratching: Harris led the area with 0.85 aces a set, yet also maintained a .924 percentage.

“Mo would be outstanding if she were just a libero,” Massey said. “If all she did was set and not play defense. If all she did was serve. But to me, the way she impacts a match in so many ways.”

Off the court, a candid discussion with Harris about volleyball usually evolves into intellect. She said she prided herself on maintaining that court “IQ,” striving to bring that awareness of the game to every match she plays.

“Having soft hands is good and all, but you also have to have intelligence,” she said. “Do you have quickness? Do you use your head a lot?

“You have to know where the other team is going to play you,” Harris said in mid-October while dissecting the previous night’s performance against eventual state champion Bettendorf. “For example, even though I didn’t score against Bettendorf, I knew they were going to be in tight on me because they know where I like to dump. Knowing that, I approached the game trying to expand it – pushing corners, pushing my outsides – getting the other team back to playing me normal.

“All of this I knew ahead of time.”

The IQ extends off the court as well. Harris graduated a semester early from Clinton and is already set to attend Iowa State University when classes resume in January. On Nov. 14, a well-attended conference celebrated Harris signing an official letter of intent to play volleyball for the Cyclones, a program that keeps her close to home and one she said she admires.

“I’m excited to go out there and get a feel for what I need to do when I’m there,” she said.

She said this next chapter in her career would unfold some new challenges. Harris first started competitive volleyball when she was in fifth grade, attending club practices with her mom, Tiffany (a former Pennsylvania state champion). From an early onset, she was slated as setter because she said she was one of the smaller players on the team.

“People really label setters not to be very big,” Harris said. “If I was tall, I would’ve been a hitter. But they label us as smaller. So I thought, OK, I’ll set.

“I knew I wanted to be good at something. I fell in love with volleyball, and I knew this was my chance to make something of my life. I just wanted to work hard and be at the level I see on television.”

At 5 feet, 8 inches, Harris is an average size for high school players, but at the taller college ranks she said she’s eager to prove height isn’t her limitation.

“You can say ‘I made it there’ since I’m going to a Division-I college, but there’s a whole lot I still have to work hard at,” she said. “I can’t just not work anymore because I made it to this level. I have to work even harder because all the girls there are already ahead of me.”

Regardless of what’s awaiting Harris, Massey already said it best:

“Monique’s impact on Clinton volleyball is just remarkable.”

 

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