STARKVILLE — You name it, Wheeler Richardson can do it.
Years on the volleyball court have helped the Starkville High School junior become proficient in every role.
As a setter, Richardson proved this season to be one of the engines that got the Yellow Jackets going in the right direction.
But coach Lauren Love also could turn to Richardson when she needed steady defensive play in the back row.
If Starkville needed some punch, Richardson was reliable there, too, even though she isn”t the tallest player on the roster.
After all, you tend to pick up some tricks of the trade when you have played volleyball for as long as Richardson.
Put everything together and it”s easy to see why Richardson is The Dispatch”s All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year.
“I have played every position for at least a year, probably,” Richardson said. “I think that is what has helped me, and being open-minded because if you are ever down a player you never know where you might get put.”
Richardson said she got her start as an attacking player because she was taller than many of her teammates. The players around her have caught up to her and grown past her, which accounts for Richardson being moved to setter.
Richardson started her volleyball career in the state of Indiana, and played in the Munciana Volleyball Club in elementary and middle school before moving to the state of Mississippi.
This season, Richardson had 78 kills, 328 assists, 185 digs, and 116 aces.
“Wheeler”s versatility is so important and meant so much to the team this year,” Love said. “Her on-court knowledge is very important to the team. It also helps that she is able to execute the basic skills regardless of where she is on the court.”
Love said Richardson did a great job hitting, passing, receiving serve, and being a leader on the court. Richardson and classmates Elizabeth Scott and Grace Drumheller were team captains this season.
Richardson also earned her share of team awards. She was named Outstanding Yellow Jacket (MVP) and received the Iron Jacket Award (most workouts/practices attended) and the team”s serving award (92.1 percent).
The only position Richardson, who is 5-foot-3, hasn”t played is middle blocker. She joked she might hit a growth spurt in time for her senior year so she can say she has played every position.
Richardson played defensive specialist when she first arrived at Starkville High before transitioning to setter the past two seasons. She said she felt more comfortable this season and took on a bigger role as a leader. She also felt she improved on the court.
“Coach has always told me, ”You need to talk more. ”You need to communicate with everyone, especially as a setter,” ” Richardson said. “I never really did that last year. I guess it was a new position and learning everything and different teammates. This year, everything just kind of fit together.”
Now that she is growing into a more vocal player, Richardson will continue to play setter for the Under-17 Tupelo Juniors club team. She said she continues to grow beyond the basics and hopes to mature enough outside of high school season to return next season to help the Yellow Jackets reach even higher goals.
Love, who played volleyball at the University of Tennessee, knows playing club volleyball is crucial to helping young athletes learn the sport and to face the toughest competition. She believes Richardson will have plenty of opportunities to play volleyball in college, if she chooses, and she is looking forward to seeing how much more she will grow next season.
“She found her voice a little more and ran our offense with her on-court play but with her on-court presence,” Love said. “I would like her to continue with the leadership role in matches and in practices. A lot of responsibility comes with being a captain, and I think she will do a great job (next season). She demonstrated the past two years she was able to grow into a stronger leadership position.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.