Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Mill Creek senior Emily Wylie a right side hitter is expected be among the top offensive forces in Gwinnett County this season.
It's very common for a high school athlete to have a breakout season in which he or she simply blossoms, sometimes for no apparent reason.
However, to look at the season right-side hitter/middle blocker Emily Wylie is having for Mill Creek's volleyball team, it's not that difficult to determine why she has made major strides so far this season.
True, the senior has become more comfortable with her coordination within her 6-foot-4 frame.
But the real reasons for Wylie's emergence, according to Hawks head coach Brian Williamson, can be more narrowly pinpointed.
"She just works very hard," Williamson said. "She'd never played volleyball until ninth grade. She was a basketball player by trade. ... From the beginning, she hadn't figured out her coordination and footwork. It took her a year or so to do that.
"She didn't play club (volleyball) until after her sophomore year, and last year, she tried out for the A-5 (program) and made it. Just being in that program and getting outstanding training during the offseason has made her better."
So far, that work with the prestigious A-5 program has paid off for both Wylie and Mill Creek.
Wylie is currently among the team leaders with 129 kills and a .358 hitting percentage, has added 21 blocks, three digs, an ace and an .818 serve percentage, and is a major factor in the Hawks' 16-4 start, which has included a No. 3 state ranking in Class AAAAAA.
Those results have also increased her comfort and confidence levels on the court, both of which she says have been on the rise since giving up basketball and devoting her full focus to volleyball as of a year ago.
"It seems like I have a better feel for the game (this season)," Wylie said. "Once you get used to playing at that (club) level, the high school level is completely different. It's a little slower.
"I can automatically read (plays) better. I'm just moving faster. Early on (as a freshman and sophomore), I didn't really know what was going on. I just did what (the coaches) told me. It seems more natural now."
Williamson has also noticed how much more volleyball has become second nature to Wylie this season.
It's also one of the main reasons he and his staff have made a major effort to get her more involved in just about every phase of the game, especially on offense.
"Emily is one of the hardest workers (on the team)," Williamson said of Wylie, who had 149 kills, 24 blocks, 15 digs and a .347 hitting percentage as a junior last year. "She's continued to figure out how to move quicker and to use her strengths.
"Last year, we didn't send the ball to her a ton. She was a good player, but she was still a little timid. She had a good hitting percentage, but we didn't go to her a lot because we had (first-team Daily Post All-County hitter and now Armstrong Atlantic State freshman) Kim Brody. We're spreading the ball around a little more this year, and (Wylie) is just so smart with the ball."
College recruiters are also beginning to notice Wylie's improvement.
Big East member Rutgers has already offered her a chance to walk on, while programs ranging in size from major programs like Clemson, Cal State-Fullerton and Georgia Southern to smaller programs like Davidson and Georgia College and State University have begun to show interest.
Still, she knows her game still has a way to go if she is to do her part to help the Hawks to a successful season before going on to play for one of those college programs.
"Right now, I'm trying to get my arm swing right and trying to break some old habits in terms of my hitting technique," Wylie said. "But I like knowing I can help out the team and do something with the ball, and that they look to me to score more (this season)."