A hard worker, a player that will go the extra mile and a constant smile are three ways to describe sophomore Kaitlin VanWinkle.
VanWinkle was named the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference defensive player of the week for the week of Sept. 30.
VanWinkle leads the Dragons in kills this year, she added 10 more to her growing total in the Dragons’five set loss.
This wasn’t the first honor of the season for VanWinkle. She was named to the all-tournament team at both the Peggy Martin Challenge in Warrensburg, Mo., and at the Winona State tournament.
The 5-foot-11 middle blocker from Farmington, Minn., found her love of volleyball at an early age.
“I started playing when I was young, and I played in the Northern Lights volleyball club league,” VanWinkle said.
Head coach Tammy Blake said this honor shows how great of a blocker VanWinkle is, and she often blocks more than people know.
“She usually only gets credit for the block when it is a point, but she blocks a lot more,” Blake said. “You know when she hits it, it goes straight down, and it’s pretty exciting.”
Blake said that VanWinkle brings both offense and defense to each game and always gives 100 percent.
“We gave her the nickname of ‘Energizer Bunny’ because she jumps really well and keeps going and going,” Blake said.
Playing in one of the toughest conferences in Division II, the Dragons face tough competition night in and night out.
“There are 16 teams in our conference, and the toughness of it shows what an honor it is to be named defensive player of the week,” athletic director Doug Peters said.
VanWinkle is averaging 1.27 blocks per set and has more than 65 blocks on the season.
VanWinkle credits the entire team to setting up the block, and said it takes every player on the court to be in the best position.
“We have to make sure we are up on the right time, and that we are all on the same page,” she said.
Practice, weight training and travel time are extra factors that student-athletes must juggle between games and course work.
“It’s a huge confidence booster for her and the team, and it validates all the hard work that they put in,” Peters said.
The volleyball team doesn’t have any seniors on this year’s team, and VanWinkle said that if the team can find success this year the sky is the limit next year.
“We have to keep working hard at practice, and we have to keep pushing each other to be better,” VanWinkle said.
VanWinkle will have the opportunity to add to her already impressive season when the Dragons take on Minnesota, Crookston and Bemidiji State this weekend in NSIC action.
BY BREANN LENZMEIER