Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan
Kristina Stinson of North Gwinnett has been selected as the Gwinnett Daily Post's volleyball player of the year.
Through her high school career, Kristina Stinson has had an impact on the North Gwinnett volleyball team.
But heading into her senior season this fall, the middle hitter wanted leave a lasting stamp on a Bulldogs program that has slowly progressed from a solid competitor in its area to a threat each year for an area championship and an annual qualifier for the highest classification's state playoffs.
North head coach Vanessa Henry has been satisfied that Stinson has done her part in the program's ascension, and it goes beyond her all-around game on the court that included 306 kills, 117 services aces and 83 blocks this season, all of which placed her among the best in Gwinnett County for players at her position.
Henry's satisfaction comes from watching Stinson grow up a little in each of her seasons in a Bulldog uniform, but particularly this season, when she asked a little bit more from her senior captain.
"This year, Kristina took more of a leadership role," Henry said. "It really started a little bit last year, but she stepped into a bigger leadership role starting this summer. We talked about things she'd have to do to be a good leader, as far as setting a good example for the rest of the girls, including having a lot of energy at practices.
"If you're around Kristina, you'd never know she's as good as she is. She's given (the team) the feeling that volleyball is fun. Every day, (the sport) is the same as it was when she was doing it for the first time. And she's always looking for what she needs to do to get better. And she sets a good example for others to emulate."
As far as setting a good example for her teammates, Stinson said she started by taking an example from Henry and her coaching staff, including assistant Christy Howard.
But in addition to taking to heart advice and instruction from her coaches, becoming the leader she hoped to be required strengthening further the already strong bond with her teammates.
Particularly important was doing so with fellow senior MaTia Hughes, who would need to play an important role if Stinson and the Bulldogs were to have the success they were working toward this season.
The adjustment to a new setter with the departure to graduation of three-time All-County selection Alex Panks was already big, but Hughes moving into the position with minimal experience made building the necessary chemistry between hitter and setter an even larger task.
"I was used to having Alex Panks set for me the last three years, so it was a little bit of a shift," Stinson said. "But it wasn't like we'd just met. (Hughes) did a great job."
As with Hughes, Stinson had built up good chemistry with other teammates, such as another fellow senior in outside hitter Miller Howard, who she says helped take pressure off her by providing another major offensive threat to attract the attention of opposing defenses.
"It's crazy to see how (Howard) has grown as a player over the last three years," Stinson said. "Just the support I've had (from coaches and teammates this season) is incredible."
And with the support from her coaches and teammates, Stinson has left a legacy for future generations of Bulldogs to follow.
She's also set herself a path to succeed when she takes her game to the next level after signing a scholarship to play college volleyball at Georgia State, which was also motivation to set goals for herself this season.
"I know it's Division I volleyball, so I knew there were some things I needed to do to get better," Stinson said of trying to improve her game for the college level. "It was just trying to be more of a leader and just being smarter on the court. And I'll be trying to adjust to the speed of the college game and being faster and smarter on the court."