It took Tricia Miller five minutes to know the possibility of Tionna Williams when she stepped nervously into a Fort Wayne Volleyball Club tryout at 13.
Williams had played for fun in middle school, but at the behest of an opposing coach, she went to a club tryout. Miller was the head coach of the team Williams was trying out for that day, and Williams walked in worried about what to expect.
While Williams may have felt anxiety, Miller felt excitement. She knew the level Williams could reach.
“I knew she was the most gifted player I had ever coached from the very first day she walked in to practice and had never played before,” said Miller, who has coached for 27 years. “I knew instantly, and you know, it's not just that it's not a lot of work has to be done, but I knew she had so much natural ability. I mean, watching within the first five minutes I was like 'Wow.'”
Now, it seems like a no-brainer what Miller saw in the middle school Williams. As a junior at Concordia Lutheran, she dominated the area in leading the Cadets to a 3A state runner-up finish. Williams finished the season with 526 kills, 291 digs and 90 blocks en route to being named to the 3A All-State team.
This natural ability being realized has also earned Williams The News-Sentinel Volleyball Player of the Year award.
“A little surprised (at the success) honestly,” Williams said. “If you had asked me this my freshman year, I honestly could not have pictured this at all, but I'm nowhere near to the end where I could be at.”
This work has come for the most part in working with Miller, who is Concordia's head coach. According to Williams, Miller has taught her everything about the sport. It's enough to have earned Williams not only awards, but also a scholarship to play at Wisconsin, a program currently No. 13 in the country and set to play in the Sweet 16 on Friday.
That Williams could earn all this is no surprise to Miller.
“The level of volleyball she plays, there really wasn't anybody that could top her all season long,” Miller said. “I think she has obviously proven not only to be the best player here period, but she's also a dominating force, and the year we had here, she really elevated this game.”
The question now is just how far Williams can take her game and if that is enough to bring Concordia its first state volleyball championship and the first for an SAC school since Snider in 1991. The Cadets will lose two seniors but return plenty of skill around Williams for her senior season.
Maybe most impressive is that for someone who has the natural skills of Williams, the ability to work hard and not be satisfied keeps her going. From the moment Concordia lost in three sets to Brebeuf Jesuit in this year's state championship, she was looking toward a chance to return to the finals.
“It still hurts right now (losing at state), honestly, but it wasn'tenough for me just to be at state,” Williams said. “We all wanted to win so bad, but it's definitely an incentive for next year because we aren't going anywhere. We'll be back hopefully and we'll be hungry next year and do the little things better to get back to state.”
For the rest of the state volleyball contingent, Williams having more incentive to reach her potential has to be the worst thing they could hear.
Tionna Williams, Concordia Lutheran
Bailee Hankenson, Bellmont
Holly Hankenson, Bellmont
Olivia Current, Bishop Dwenger
Marta Bleed, Blackhawk Christian
Kate Novack, Carroll
Jackie Quade, Carroll
Gabrielle Hazen, Columbia City
Kalisha Goree, Columbia City
Jordan Lentz, Homestead
Tori Bontrager, Woodlan
Burgundy Price, Woodlan