Southwestern sophomore Kylie Eccles is the Madison Courier Volleyball Player of the Year. (Photo by Nina Campbell Photography)
Southwestern sophomore Kylie Eccles is the Madison Courier Volleyball Player of the Year. (Photo by Nina Campbell Photography)
Standing roughly 5 feet, 7 inches tall, Kylie Eccles doesn’t cut an intimidating presence on the volleyball court. But what the Southwestern sophomore lacks in height, she more than makes up for in raw athleticism.

Despite fielding a team of mostly sophomores, Southwestern still won 18 matches and the Ohio River Valley Conference this season and Eccles was a big reason why and because of that, she is this year’s Madison Courier Volleyball Player of the Year.

Eccles was the Rebels’ force at the net. Her 243 kills this year were best in the area and she did it at an impressive 35.1 hitting percentage. Showcasing her all-around ability, she also served at 82 percent (219-for-267) with 49 service aces and recorded 196 digs.

But it was at the net where she made the most impact. Despite routinely facing players taller than her, Eccles was able to use her jumping and quick-strike ability to attack opponents.

“My family has such a high jumping ability so it came with me. But I still have to work for it,” Eccles said. “I have to out-jump people who are way taller than me just to hit over them or to block them. It’s harder to do since I’m not very tall.”

Southwestern coach Chris Johnson knew that his star sophomore had this potential. Despite struggling as a freshman, he could see the kind of attacker that she would eventually become.

“You tend to learn a lot between freshman year and sophomore year and Kylie is a good example of that,” Southwestern coach Chris Johnson said. “She definitely took her game to a whole other level.”

For Eccles, the biggest thing for her to learn was consistency. Because she was giving away inches to opponents, she had to use her athleticism to its utmost ability.

“I think her biggest improvement from last year to this year is her arm swing. She’s always been athletic and is one of the most athletic girls in this school and this whole area, but she’s doing a lot better job with her mechanics,” Johnson said. “She was getting the ball out in front of her last year and sometimes way behind her. It was really inconsistent. I think she’s really gotten to the point where she was attacking the ball pretty much in the same spot, most of the time. I think that allowed her to get consistent, which allowed her to produce more power and turn herself into a legitimate power hitter.”

Of course Eccles couldn’t do it alone. Like a 3-point shooter in basketball, Eccles still needed somebody to get her the ball and in volleyball, that role fell to setter Meaghan Kramer.

Also a sophomore, Kramer did her best to feed Eccles every chance she could and her 535 assists led the area.

“Meaghan is a good setter. Even if the ball was in the middle of the court, she could still get it to me, which was very helpful,” Eccles said. “If the ball wasn’t to where she could set it to the middle, she could get it to me and even if she was behind the setter’s box, she could get it to me most of the time.”

While Eccles had a strong sophomore season, she doesn’t plan to rest on her laurels. She has already decided not to play basketball this year and will instead run indoor track & field. And while she will not play club volleyball, she still plans on working out on the court.

“I didn’t play basketball because I didn’t think I had a shot at college but I knew I did for track or volleyball,” Eccles said. “I’m doing indoor and I think it will help me a lot, but I’m scared. I don’t want to get burned out, but I think it will help me a lot for track season and help me get into shape.”

Johnson knows that Eccles has even more room to grow and is excited to see what the future holds.

“Her and I have talked this year about college volleyball and I think she knows that her height puts her at a little bit of a disadvantage,” Johnson said. “She does jump well and that’s something we want to continue to develop in the offseason, and maybe we can work on a jump program and try to squeeze another inch or two out of her vertical. I still think mechanically with her arm swing and her approach to get her a quicker approach when she gets off the floor when she’s jumping. That alone will give her another inch or two.”

Southwestern’s season ended with a loss to North Decatur in the sectional semifinals, but with five starters back — all sophomores — the future looks bright for the Rebels.

“Most of the starting six are sophomores and we have played together forever, for as long as I could remember,” Eccles said. “We just know each other and it’s easier.”

“That’s what I’m most excited about with her and these other sophomores,” Johnson said. “There’s room for growth for all of them and I think the next couple of years for Southwestern volleyball will be an exciting couple of years to watch.”