Two years ago, a red-haired girl was sitting in a classroom at Edmond Memorial High School in Oklahoma.
That girl was Micha Hancock, and she was entering her senior year and her final season with the Lady Bulldog volleyball team. She helped her team to win the state title that season, giving Hancock three state championships while in high school.
Since then, she has made the 1,231-mile journey from Edmond, Okla., to Happy Valley and finds herself as the starting setter for Penn State for the second straight season.
Even though she’s only a sophomore, Hancock is making a huge impact for the No. 2 Nittany Lions (5-0, 0-0 Big Ten). There’s no doubt she has improved since she first stepped foot in Rec Hall, but her play in matches is not the only thing that has been improving.
"She’s really grown a lot as a leader, which is important as a setter," junior right side Ariel Scott said.
Her leadership is clear. On the floor, she is helping to call out how to set up the defense. And when she has the ball on offense, she can be as lethal as anyone in the country.
She leads the squad in hitting percentage with a .550 clip and is one of two players on the team with a hitting percentage of .500 of better – senior defensive specialist Kristin Carpenter is the other.
This past weekend, Hancock registered seven kills on 13 attacks, all without having an error. Of those seven kills, five came Saturday night against Texas and caught the Longhorn defense off guard, ultimately giving the Lions a point.
Instead of setting the ball to another hitter, she would often try and sneak the ball over the net. For the most part, it worked too. Hancock accredits her ability to catch the defense off guard on the scouting reports that the Lions have.
"When we use scouting reports, they tell me where they’re going to be as far as the defense set up when I’m supposed to be setting other hitters. So I kind of take that time to be like ‘OK, I can dump here, here and here if I need to,’ if the option’s open," Hancock said. "I think the thing for me is I’m pretty aggressive like overhand all the way around….When I have the ball and I see it’s open, I do my best to score."
When it comes to serving, Hancock is on another level. Last season, she set the Penn State single season aces record with 91 and was No. 2 in the nation with .75 aces per set – the only freshman to be ranked in the Top 10 in that category.
This season, she has registered 14 aces through five matches and has improved her aces per set to .82. She said her ability to serve well was adapted at an early age.
"It’s just a lot of touches. When I was younger, I just messed around with it, and then as the years passed, I noticed I got better at it, and I was like ‘Hey, I’m going to keep working on it,’ and I just kept going for the serve," she said. "I don’t ever really think about ‘Oh my God, I’m going to miss this serve.’ It’s, ‘I’m going for it.’"
There’s no doubt Hancock is going to be an important piece of the puzzle if the Lions want to hoist up the NCAA championship trophy at the end of the season in Louisville, Ky. – coincidentally the same place they began their season. Thus far, Hancock is third on the team with 42 digs and has 186 assists on the season, two more than all of the Lions’ opponents combined.
"Coming in as a freshman, she was playing right off the bat, so we kind of had to help her," Scott said. "But now she’s grown into her own and become a really good leader."