by Denny Seitz
Hannah Early has always thought of herself as a basketball player. When she tried out for the volleyball team at Bradley Middle School, it was because her friends were on the team and she didn’t want to be bored.
So she sat on the bench as an eighth-grader and did the same as a ninth-grader on the Hopewell High junior varsity.
At the time, she noticed many of her basketball peers also spent hours on the volleyball court honing their skills in summer AAU and club leagues. So Early joined them, mixing her full-time basketball commitment with almost-as-busy duties to become better in volleyball.
“It was the beginning of my sophomore year when I thought, ‘This might be something more than just a way to stay in shape for basketball,’” Early said. “I was beginning to enjoy it, and I started wondering how good I might be if I focused more on volleyball.”
Her volleyball coach, Rhonda Auman, wondered the same thing.
“Her focus was always basketball,” said Auman, who’s also a Hopewell girls basketball assistant. “But once she got motivated, once she got hungry to get better in volleyball, that’s when she really started to grow.”
Now 6 foot 1, Early is Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2010 Lake Norman-Area Volleyball Player of the Year.
But after her junior season, during which she totaled 167 kills and 122 blocks and was an all-conference selection, Early faced a dilemma. She was beginning to garner interest from college volleyball and basketball coaches. Although it was tough, Early decided to choose her first love – basketball – as the sport she’d play in college, eventually signing with Davidson.
Nonetheless, she continued working hard to get better at volleyball. After helping the Titans to their best season ever – 23-6 – during her junior year, she was on Hopewell’s 27-4 squad this past season. Early paced the team with 310 kills and 88 blocks and was named the I-MECK 4A conference Player of the Year.
“It surprised me that I would even be considered for (I-MECK) Player of the Year,” Early said, “because even a few years ago, I never ever thought I would be a volleyball player.”
Auman said Early has earned her spot among the best to ever play volleyball at Hopewell. A play during a Hopewell-Mallard Creek match stands out to Auman.
“We were in a slide offense, where sometimes a spike might look a bit like a right-handed layup,” Auman said. “And Hannah was sliding, the ball was set, and she timed it perfect, spiking the ball over the net and nearly straight down onto the court. I remember the Mallard Creek player looking over at her coach and shrugging her shoulders, sort of like saying, ‘What am I supposed to do about that?’
There was nothing she could have done.”