Hard Work Drives Whitney Woods To The Top Of Her Game

Whitney WoodsThe date was November 25th, the location Las Vegas, Nevada. Amidst the celebration by the Hawai'i volleyball team and their fans and the consolation of the New Mexico State players by their teammates and parents, Whitney Woods sat alone quietly in the first row in the stands behind the Aggie bench staring off in the distance. Her team had just lost the WAC Tournament championship match to Hawai'i, one of three losses to the Final Four bound Wahine last season.

Losing is never any fun. Losing to Hawai'i in the championship match of the WAC Tournament is even less fun. For Woods, this loss was a little tougher to take. "I took it hard because I knew we were able to beat them. No doubt about it," said Woods. "There were just plays in the game where we let our guard down and let them get in our heads."

Nearly nine months later, Woods enters the 2010 season as one of three seniors on the Aggie volleyball team and was named to the WAC's preseason All-Conference team along with with her teammates Kelsey Brennan, Jennah DeVries and fellow senior Kayleigh Giddens.

The preseason All-Conference pick should come as no surprise to anyone that's watched Woods play the past two seasons, however, for Whitney the metamorphosis into an All-Conference right-side attacker didn't happen overnight.

Woods admits that she wasn't prepared to play Division I level volleyball when she arrived at New Mexico State in 2006. "In high school, it was like, they'd hit the ball up in the air and I'd jump up and get it. That type of thing," said Woods. "When I got here, it was definitely a lot different. The game was faster and I wasn't prepared for that. I didn't have the arm speed to be playing. I didn't have the range to be playing. I was definitely a rookie but Coach [Jordan] had seen the athleticism in me."

While there was no questioning Woods' athleticism coming out of high school where she was a also very good softball player, her volleyball skills were raw. "Whitney played no club volleyball at all," said Aggie volleyball head coach Mike Jordan. "She played middle in high school and had no experience playing the left or the right as an outside hitter. She also had no ball control experience either. She had to learn the game almost from the beginning and has developed into one of the more dominant players in the conference."

"Being as athletic as I am, it just made it a lot easier to become the player I am now," said Woods. "Being able to better balls and keep balls in play and blocking-wise, being athletic definitely helped me in that aspect of the game."

While Woods could rely on her athleticism, she knew she also had to sharpen the mental aspect of her game. "The game of volleyball is more than just knowing your position. You have to know what everybody else is doing," says Woods. "Just knowing what's going on, knowing what other people are supposed to be doing not just yourself."

"My first year was definitely hard but after my first year I think I was more prepared to be on the court." Woods would miss the majority of her redshirt freshman season with a shoulder injury and only played in the final four matches of the 2007 season. "Me sitting out two years in a row just made me want to play more," said Woods. In those final four matches she gave fans a glimpse of her potential as she recorded 10 kills in the Aggies' final two matches, five against Hawai'i and five against LSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. In her sophomore season she played in every match for the Aggies and finished the season with 174 kills, fourth on the team behind three All-Conference teammates. She also finished the season with 107 total blocks and 48 digs. "It was me just getting out there focusing more because all I wanted to do was play."

Last year in just her second full season, Woods continued her growth and the flashes of potential turned into stretches of utter dominance. Against Notre Dame she posted a .647 hitting percentage with 12 kills on 17 swings with just one attack error. She marked a career-high 22 kills on 33 swings and committed just three attack errors against Louisiana Tech in Ruston. She also put together back-to-back 19 kill matches against Idaho and Nevada late in the season.

"She's so fast and jumps so well," says Coach Jordan. "She consistently beats people off the floor and has developed into one of the best blockers I've ever been around. She's the best blocker in our conference, it's not even close."

Woods finished second on the team in kills with 274 and averaged 2.66 kills per set. She hit better than .400 eight times and finished with double-digit kills in 12 matches. She also finished with 112 total blocks on the season. "She can change a game with her blocking ability," said Coach Jordan The things we ask her to do are pretty tough and she's so athletic that she can pull it off."

Despite putting up the big numbers, Coach Jordan says the senior still has room for improvement. "We're hoping she's a little less error-prone this fall," said Coach Jordan. "Every year she's cut down on her errors which is great. Hopefully we'll continue to see that this fall."

"Last year the coaches had me focus on broken plays and bettering the ball and putting the ball back in play," said Woods. "It wasn't about how hard I hit it, it wasn't about how many kills I got, it was about keeping the ball in play."

As a senior, Woods hopes that she can help guide this year's younger group. "I just hope that I'm able to make things easier. Easier for them to understand what coach is looking for in a play and what to expect when certain game situations happen." Her advice to the freshmen? "Listen and take in what the coaches are telling you. They're telling you for a reason and it's only going to make you better."

"In the four and a half years she's been here, she's gone from quiet and clueless to very confident," said Coach Jordan.

Woods is definitely confident heading into her final season as an Aggie and for her, the feeling she had that night last November after the conference championship match serves as motivation for her final season as an Aggie. "I just wanna go out there and ball out and give it all I can and just win like we did my sophomore year," said Woods.

That season Woods and her teammates shared the WAC regular season crown after splitting the regular season meetings with Hawai'i, losing in Las Cruces before pulling off an impressive sweep of the Wahine in Honolulu later that season. The Aggies went on to win the program's first NCAA Tournament match, something that Woods hopes the team can replicate this season. "Beat Hawai'i, win a WAC championship and get to the NCAAs."