McDaniel Plays Role of Versatile Leader During Senior Season
Nov. 28, 2008
Since Heather McDaniel joined the volleyball team four seasons ago, she has played nearly every role for the Spartans. From outside hitter to middle blocker to defensive specialist, McDaniel has filled every spot on the court. But heading into her senior season, McDaniel was asked to fill a different role and act as the emotional leader of one of the youngest teams in the Big Ten Conference. Battling through nagging injuries and facing stern tests from some of the Big Ten elite, McDaniel did just that, serving as the anchor of a talented Spartan roster.
When McDaniel walks onto the floor at Jenison Field House on Saturday against Minnesota, it will mark the final time that thousands of Spartans fans will get a look at the senior captain in her home gym.
"It's kind of unbelievable right now; I don't know if I have fully accepted it yet," said McDaniel. "I know things will be different next week, but right now I am just focusing on the games this weekend."
Five years ago, the Madison Heights, Mich. native was just like any other high school athlete in the country, looking to make the jump to the next level, only it was not volleyball that McDaniel was focusing most of her energy on. As a prep basketball star, McDaniel had her sights set on a hoops scholarship from smaller Division II or Division III schools. But at an open workout, the athleticism of McDaniel caught the eye of Cathy George and the Michigan State coaching staff.
"It's actually kind of a miracle how I ended up at Michigan State and I am really blessed to have ended up here," McDaniel said. "I was considering going to college for basketball, but Michigan State, I don't know how they found me. I went to a club tryout and they liked what they saw, I looked athletic and Cathy gave me a chance to come here. It just fell into my lap and it was a last-minute blessing that turned out really well for me."
The move also turned out really well for the Spartans. McDaniel has been a versatile, two-way player during her tenure with MSU being a force at the net and in the back row. Her athleticism that the coaching staff saw in her at the club tryout began to pay off, but it was another aspect of McDaniel's game that kept her in the Spartan lineup.
"She has grown in all of her skills," said George. "She is a trooper, she gets out there, plays hard and she does what she needs to do which is a credit to her. Any role that we have needed her to play she has been able to play and she does it well. She has a great knowledge of the game and she brings that to the court. I have also been impressed with the toughness that she brings during every match."
That toughness has been even more evident throughout the 2008 season. Battling a nagging foot injury, McDaniel has played in 99 of the team's 110 sets this season and has earned a start in 12 matches. Her 99 sets played is a career-high, despite playing with an injured foot that will require surgery after the season.
"If I am doing this with the injury that I have, then my teammates can do anything," McDaniel said. "It's been really challenging, but it has made me the strongest person that I have ever been. It's made me not take anything for granted and I hope my teammates can look up to me for that and realize that they can accomplish anything, no matter what stands in their way."
Showing the toughness to battle through her injuries, McDaniel has maintained her versatility. After spending the 2007 season as a defensive specialist, McDaniel has played all over the floor this season. From the left side, right side to the back row, she has proven the ability to make an impact at every position.
"In general, as a person, I am a people-pleaser, so whenever people ask me to do something, I am willing to do it, and that has carried over into volleyball," McDaniel said. "Not a lot of players can say that they have played every position except setter. Whatever I can do to help my team out, I am willing to do, so I take a lot of pride in being that utility player."
2008 has been a whirlwind of defining moments for McDaniel. Although the run to the Sweet 16 last season will always stay atop her list of memories as a Spartan, many of her top moments have come during the 2008 campaign. From topping No. 22 Michigan at the Breslin Center, to defeating Wisconsin in Madison in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history, McDaniel will always view 2008 a memorable final season.
"Playing at Breslin was a great experience for us," McDaniel said. "We had so many fans, it was a record-breaking crowd. It was exhilarating. And I always like to play at Wisconsin and getting a win there again was really exciting."
Those memories are just the beginning of what McDaniel will miss about playing Spartan volleyball. From practicing with her teammates, traveling around the country to even the early-morning workouts, McDaniel said that she will miss nearly everything about playing Big Ten volleyball. "It has been such a huge part of my life. It's been my job for the past four years," McDaniel said. "I'll miss every single part of it, whether it was a great time in my life or bad time in my life, it has made me who I am right now."
Her two biggest fans, Mark and Cynthia McDaniel, will miss all of that too, as they have traveled to nearly every match that their daughter has played in during her final season with MSU.
"They have been the perfect fans. They have been to every single match this season, except for the tournament in Oklahoma," McDaniel said. "They have always enjoyed watching me play. They have always been great supporters and they have showed their love all season. Having their support at every match this season has been fun."
When McDaniel runs out onto the floor on Saturday, it will be a whirlwind of emotions. From excitement to apprehensiveness, McDaniel will likely experience it all against Minnesota. But for the Spartans' lone senior, nerves are something that will be in the back of her mind heading into the weekend.
"I'm just going to go out there and play like I have played every weekend," McDaniel said. "I want to play with no regrets; I would like to come out 2-0. It would be fantastic. I want to play like we did against Illinois, fearless, scrappy and I just want to enjoy it for one last time."
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