FALL ALL-AREA: Wilson named LCR's Volleyball Player of the Year

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Wilson took on new position for CHS, provided leadership; five more make the all-area team

  • Columbia’s Lauren Wilson is the LCR’s Volleyball Player of the Year. (BRENT KUYKENDALL/Lake City Reporter)
    Columbia’s Lauren Wilson is the LCR’s Volleyball Player of the Year. (BRENT KUYKENDALL/Lake City Reporter)
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Lauren Wilson faced a few challenges heading into her senior year at Columbia.

She was playing a new position, trying to land a scholarship offer and dealing with a difficult start to the season. Wilson succeeded in every area, earning her the Lake City Reporter’s Volleyball Player of the Year honors.

“Being picked for this was one thing I really wanted going into the year,” Wilson said. “It means a lot to be remembered for this. This is a great honor. I’m thankful for all my coaches through the years and all my teammates. I wanted to leave my mark on this program and set an example for the younger girls to follow.”

Mission accomplished.

Wilson, a 5-foot-11 outside hitter, has been a team leader throughout her time at CHS, but those qualities were most evident at the beginning of the 2019 season. With a new floor being installed on their home court, the Lady Tigers had to play their first 16 games on the road.

Columbia went 4-12 during that stretch, including losing streaks of six and five games. Wilson tried to keep spirits high when her teammates got down on themselves. 

“It was definitely hard being away so much because you don’t get home until late and everyone is tired,” she said. “There were a lot of games where we would be in the locker room before the bus left and we were all tired and down about things. It happened more often than it should have.

“I had to step in and say, ‘No, we have to play. There’s nothing we can do about it, so we might as well give it our all.’ If one person is happy, it’s a domino effect. So I learned a lot about leadership and how to deal with people when they’re not having good days.”

Columbia coach Trudy Andrews praised Wilson for being vocal and having a positive influence on her teammates. It wasn’t just lip service, either. Wilson walked the walk.

“She was huge as a leader, not only on the court but off the court. She led by example as far as her work ethic and how she played,” Andrews said of Wilson. “She was in the locker room picking people up. If someone needed a hand, she was the first one to show the newer players how to do something.

“She was willing to teach them and help any way she could. And on the court, she was always setting up what we were doing and making sure our offense ran smoothly.”

Wilson finished second on the team with 134 kills, more than doubling the total from her junior campaign (55). She also had 31 aces and made a position change prior to the season.

Wilson, who committed to Huntingdon College in October, was recruited by the Hawks as an outside hitter and a setter. After playing middle blocker for the Tigers in 2018, she approached Andrews about switching to her future position.

“I went to Coach Trudy at one of our first open gyms (in the summer) and asked her if I could move outside because that’s what I’m going to play at the next level,” Wilson said. “She told me she wasn’t going to guarantee anything, so I had to work for it. I had never played outside before, at least not full-time, so it was a new position.

“Just playing it made me more comfortable and I got better at it, which is what I wanted. This year improved my volleyball IQ, too. When my college coach (Latonia Brady) found out I was playing outside, she was pretty impressed. She never asked me to change positions. I just took that on myself.”

Now she’s ready to take on Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Ala., where she will play both on the team’s indoor team in the fall and the school’s beach volleyball team during the spring. The Hawks, who play in the 19-team USA South Conference, return the bulk of their starters and the conference player of the year after missing the NCAA tournament by one game last season with 23 wins.

Following the impact she made at CHS, Andrews looks forward to seeing what Wilson can accomplish in college.

“Lauren is a dynamic player,” Andrews said. “She puts her team first and had to play many positions for us. We got to move her outside this season, which was awesome. She was one of our main hitters and also stepped up defensively. Then in the back row (on defense), we could depend on her to get the job done.

“She wanted to play at the next level and she just pushed herself to be better. She set that goal, kept working and made it happen. When she got committed, it was an awesome feeling and really cool to witness. I saw her grow as a player, a leader and a person through the years. I can’t wait to see the accomplishments she makes at the next level.”

Wilson has always shown herself as a versatile player. As a CHS freshman, she was the JV team’s setter, which is the quarterback of the team in volleyball. She was sidelined most of her sophomore year with a pair of knee injuries., She moved to middle blocker as a junior on the varsity team, before switching to outside hitter in 2019. 

She earned the Tiger Award as the CHS JV team’s top player as a freshman. She was named the varsity team’s utility player of the year in 2018 and the Tigers’ offensive player of the year as a senior. She started all 25 of the Tigers games this season and played in every set. 

In the postseason, Wilson represented Columbia High in the North Florida All-Star Series Volleyball game in Jacksonville and was named a starter for the North team. The all-star game featured volleyball standouts from 43 high schools in northeast Florida.

Wilson plays volleyball year-round and has played in tournaments across the Southeast for three clubs through the years in Gainesville: Vision Volleyball Club of Gainesville, Gainesville Beach Volleyball and Gainesville Juniors Volleyball Club. Currently she plays for Gainesville Juniors 18 National team.

“If you want to really improve and get noticed, you have to play club ball and really work at it, play year-round,” Wilson said. “My travel coaches always told me if you got the opportunity to play in college, you might not play the same position that you played in high school or on a travel team, so be ready for it.

“I have always tried to be a versatile player and now I’ve played every position at some point. I’m really excited about having the chance to play at the college level. I just love volleyball.”

ALL-AREA TEAM

Caleigh Avery

MH, Fort White

Sophomore led the team with 59 kills and 21 blocks. Was also 2nd on the team with 22 aces.

Asherah Collins 

MH/OH, Columbia

Senior led county with 171 kills, was 3rd for CHS with 19 blocks , 4th with 127 digs and 5th with 33 aces.

Gabby Leclerc

DS, Columbia

Senior led county in digs with 182 and was 4th on the team with 40 aces.

JC Syles

L, Columbia

Senior led county with 45 aces and was 3rd on the team with 153 digs.

Danielle Thomson

S, Columbia

Sophomore led county with 341 assists and was 2nd on the team with 174 digs.