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Ohio University outside hitter Lauren Park prepares to hit the ball in a game against Ball State in Athens, Ohio on October 19, 2019. (FILE)

Volleyball: Lauren Park embraces new role in junior season

For the first volleyball game of her junior season, Bobcats’ outside hitter/right side hitter Lauren Park prepared the same way she does for each match. 

“I drink coffee before every game, at least once,” Park said. 

After she has her caffeine, Park continues her practices to get focused for the match ahead of her.  

“On my wrist I write 4:13, which is my favorite Bible verse,” Park said. “Just so that if I am losing a little bit or I need to refocus I can look at it like ‘OK I got this.’ I have it on my shoes, too.”

Despite her strong focus and complete preparation for the Bobcats’ Jan. 22 match against Central Michigan, a problem arose of Park and her team that no one had seen coming  — a power outage causing a blackout in The Convo and for most of southeastern Ohio during the second set of the match. 

“I remember I was coming off the net, and I turned around right as the lights went out. I just kind of stood there,” Park said. “That was something none of us had ever even thought would happen during a game.”

Officials chose to postpone the match until Saturday morning, pushing back the previously planned second match between the Bobcats and Chippewas. 

“I think that it happened at the worst time possible,” Park said. “Everyone’s trying to get the feel out for playing again, and right as the power went out, we were about to win (the set) and we were heading in a great direction. Everyone was playing super well.”

Park did not let this bump in the road shake her confidence, though. She ended the match with 18 kills, two digs and two blocks. Her confidence was not something that she garnered overnight; it was something that had been a long time coming. 

“There was a switch in my mindset coming into this year,” Park said. “I’m just more confident in the way I know I can play.”

Park played in 21 matches and 62 sets last season. She finished the season with 147 kills and a .126 hitting percentage. So far this season, Park has played in four matches and has 51 kills. Her hitting percentage is sitting at .140, already improving on last season. 

There are two notable differences for her this season, though: she is now an upperclassman and the new regulations due to the ongoing pandemic. Park does not fear this new role despite the circumstances, she accepts it with open arms. 

“This being my first season as one of the older people, I wouldn’t say it adds pressure, I think it makes me work harder in a way,” Park said. “This year, (coach) Deane (Webb) is challenging me to be more of a vocal leader on the court.” 

In years prior, Park found herself leading off the court. She would help her teammates keep their grades in check and make sure they were eligible to play. 

“That’s been my role, keeping everyone in line with their grades,” Park said. 

With this change in roles, Park has worked on becoming the most reliable team member she can for her team on the court, as well as off. 

“Knowing that I need to be steady and stable for our newer players who haven’t played, our new freshman, or haven’t been able to play their first college game until this year … it’s less of what I do to steady myself and more of what I need to do for our whole team,” Park said. 

Her leadership comes at an odd time since the Bobcats are playing in the spring rather than the fall, however Park chooses to see the light in the situation. 

“I think it’s a good opportunity for us to even get to play in the spring, so we can prepare even more for the fall, this coming fall season,” Park said. 

Ohio has already seen the effects of COVID-19 on its season. Its matches against Eastern Michigan were canceled due to contact tracing issues on the Eastern roster. Also, the team is playing its matches in masks to help aid against the spread. This adds a whole new element to the game for each player. 

“Normally, we’re worried about keeping everyone healthy injury-wise and this year we have to worry about keeping our team healthy due to COVID and injuries,” Park said. “There’s a lot of stress that kind of goes along with it.”

The game landscape also looks completely different for Park and her teammates. They are playing their matches with a limited crowd and cardboard cut-outs in the seats once occupied by fans. While many would find this to be off-putting, Park appreciates the newfound silence. 

“I thought it was honestly going to be difficult to play with no one there because normally we have the big alumni band, and we have a bunch of fans. We had to adjust to not having that in our first game, and then it was like you have more focus to beat the other team,” Park said. 

Although The Convo is quiet, the Bobcats still remain vocal. Communication is key for the team and Park understands how the energy they once had from outside sources needs to be created within the team. For her, the communication and unity within her position group has helped her be able to adapt to game situations.

“There’s four of us in my position group,” Park said. “When we’re out we stand in certain parts of the bench to see what works and what isn’t working, or how the other team’s defense is adjusting to us.” 

Unity has proven to be helpful for the Bobcats in stressful sets, like those of the Central Michigan match and most recently their matches against Akron. Together, they work toward their ultimate goal each week: to win. 

“The goal for every weekend is, no matter who we’re playing, we want to win,” Park said. 

However, Park and the Bobcats strive for more than just wins. Each week they want to better themselves and reach milestones. 

“Our biggest goal is we want to play to our maximum potential,” Park said.

Part of the way the Bobcats reach their potential is through their crowd support, and although there is a small crowd this year, Park still feels the love from the fans.

“I think my favorite part about playing here is the support we get from the community and from our athletic staff, and from everyone. That’s something you don’t get many places,” Park said. “People are supporting us from everywhere they can.”

This season may not be the way Park imagined it, but she still appreciates the opportunity to play for Ohio and the fans.

“We’re so lucky. We really truly are so thankful for everything and how much they have supported us,” Park said. 

@ashleybeachy_

ab026319@ohio.edu

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