What comes to mind when you hear the words ‘team sport’? The first image or concept is probably a long compilation of coaches from various sports spouting off well-worn platitudes about teamwork over individual achievement. If there is any particular sport that should come to mind, there may be no better example than volleyball. When it comes to quality team-first players within such a cooperative sport, not many are better than sophomore outside hitter Delaney Hopen.
“The sport is a lot unlike any other that I played growing up,” Hopen said. “How the team gels with each other makes a big difference and we’ve done a really good job of that so far.”
Hopen does plenty to make sure the team has that cohesiveness necessary to play at a high level. Her position in the back rows limits her opportunities for kills and blocks, but that doesn’t diminish her importance to the team.
“Overall she’s an energetic player, kind of a utility that can also swing out of the back rows and be a defensive specialist,” head coach Debbie Buchanan said. “She’s gaining a lot of confidence as a player and she is improving in a lot of areas.”
As she’s transitioned from her first year on campus to her sophomore campaign, Hopen has contributed to the team at a considerably greater rate than last year. She finished the 2016 season with 65 digs over 17 matches and 38 sets. Her performance so far this year has been highlighted by big matches against Grand Canyon University and Montana, and she is on pace to improve on every one of last year’s season totals in the categories that she has not already surpassed.
Hopen said she had spent most of her life surrounded by sports. Her father, older brother and cousin all went on to play college sports, and Hopen said she felt those influences growing up.
“I tried to do as much as I could growing up to stay busy, and I was able to find something I loved along the way. My neighbor convinced me to start playing volleyball in the sixth grade, and soon after I switched away from basketball and committed to volleyball,” Hopen said.
Hopen chose the University of Idaho over other universities because it strikes a balance between proximity to home and venturing far from the nest.
“I got to know some of the coaches and people here early on,” Hopen said. “I lived in a suburb of Seattle and coming here outside of Washington is a nice change of pace and it’s a great opportunity to meet new people without being too far away.”
Hopen went to Shorewood High School, just a few miles up the I-5 from Seattle. She led her team during a remarkable senior year with 310 total kills on the way to a 21-1 record. She finished her high school career with 431 digs and 91 aces.
In the present, however, she said she has concrete goals for herself and the all-important team.
“Academically my focus is to not procrastinate too much, and majoring in geology does not make that any easier,” Hopen said. “We’re going to keep growing as a team, and I think we can accomplish whatever we want to. It is not always easy to get a group of girls to get along but our team genuinely enjoys each other and it’s fun to be at practice play with these girls.”
Those goals are coming closer to realization as the volleyball season winds down. An abundance of harmonious attitudes and players like Delaney Hopen will produce big results for this year’s team.
Jonah Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jonahpbaker