When Nikiski senior Hannah Thompson was young, she watched a videotape of her parents, Sharon and Bill Thompson, playing recreational volleyball. Thompson made up her mind she wanted to play college volleyball.
At the time of viewing the tape, Thompson said she was about 4. Sharon said her daughter was closer to 6.
No matter the exact age, Thompson could not have known the obstacles she would face to playing college volleyball, especially NCAA Division I college volleyball, at the time.
For starters, Thompson has only grown to 5-foot-8, not exactly the ideal size for big-time volleyball. She also would move from Wyoming to Metlakatla to Nikiski, learning most of her volleyball on the Kenai Peninsula.
Nikiski volleyball coach Bruce King, who has been a part of the peninsula volleyball scene for about 17 years, said the peninsula has produced just two players who received Division I volleyball scholarship money Nikiski graduate Angie Camp and Soldotna graduate Hillary Zobeck.
Early in December, Thompson joined that select group when she agreed to play volleyball for Eastern Washington University of Cheney, Wash. Thompson will receive a two-year scholarship to play at Eastern, getting full rides in her junior and senior years. Eastern was the only Division I school recruiting Thompson.
“It meant a lot for me to play Division I,” Thompson said. “At the same time, I was looking to play at a school where I could be most effective. Going Division I wasn’t the only factor I was considering.”
Thompson made the Class 3A state all-tournament team all four years at Nikiski. King said the key to Thompson earning a scholarship was that she improved immensely each year even though, as a freshman, she was good enough to be all-state.
“It’s nice for her to be rewarded for the work she put into becoming a better volleyball player,” King said. “She’s an outstanding athlete, but I don’t think very many people recognize how much time she has taken to become a better volleyball player.”
Eastern has finished third or higher in the regular season Big Sky Conference standings for 11 straight years. Wade Benson has coached Eastern for seven seasons and in each season the team has appeared in the championship game of the conference tournament.
Thompson expects to play setter or libero at Eastern.
“The tempo’s a lot faster and I’ll have to focus on setting and defense,” she said. “I won’t be hitting.”
After the All-American Advanced Skills Camp in Anchorage this summer, Benson, who was a guest coach at the camp, invited Thompson down for a visit. King said that Benson had some reservations about Thompson going into the camp but changed his mind after seeing her in action.
While Thompson got most of her attention in high school for hitting, she doesn’t have the ideal height for attacking at the Division I level.
“I think that when Wade Benson saw her at camp last summer, he saw what most coaches see she really is outstanding in the back row,” King said. “People see her offensive skills, but she’s really an outstanding back row player.”
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