Grace VanDorn could not have asked for a better start to her collegiate career.
The North Aurora, Ill., native was someone Albion College wanted in its volleyball program, but aside from one campus visit a year ago, the distance from campus kept her from getting to know and have opportunities to play with her future teammates.
Because of that lack of familiarity, VanDorn believed she would not be getting as many full-time setting opportunities.
However, Coach Kristin de St. Aubin went with VanDorn to direct the offense for the opening matches at a Labor Day tournament after just a week of training camp because she had the technique to deliver the ball to the hitters consistently.
"I had never run a 5-1 for an entire season," VanDorn said of the Britons system where she is surrounded by five hitters on the court, giving her additional blocking and defensive responsibilities. "It was stressful because I didn't think I had the authority (to run the offense as a first-year player)."
The results turned out better than anyone could have hoped. VanDorn was an all-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association second team pick, dishing out a single-season school record 1,102 assists. Her 352 digs, second-most on the team, helped her achieve a double-double in 21 of the team's 29 matches.
Even more impressive than the individual metrics was how the Albion squad worked together to finish 8-8 against its MIAA rivals. The Britons were one of the four teams to advance to the league's postseason tournament.
"My teammates are so accepting," VanDorn said. "I've never been on a team where everybody is nice to everybody."
With VanDorn's inexperience at the collegiate level, in general, and to the Albion program, specifically, the Britons kept the offensive options straight forward at the start of the season. And, because VanDorn is considered short for a setter at 5' 5", the Britons had to work harder on defense on rotations when she was in the front row.
Growth became one of the themes during the season, and de St. Aubin credited her setter among those making the most progress over the course of the season.
"We focused her development on running a fast tempo out of system and some of her transition decision making, which grew so much from the beginning of the season until the end," de St. Aubin said.
"Grace grew the most in being able to run a fast tempo offense when the pass was not perfect," the coach added. "She really developed her confidence in when to take risks in forcing a tough set and when to keep it safe. She did a great job in evenly distributing the offense at the right times."
While qualifying for the MIAA Tournament minted the 2017 a success, Albion is expected to have all but two letter winners back for the '18 campaign. With a year of experience, expectations may have never been higher for the Albion volleyball program.
"The spring (non-traditional season) can't come soon enough," Van Dorn said. "I want to get in the gym so bad. I'm excited because there is so much more we're capable of. (I think) we're capable of anything we put our minds to. There is so much potential to be unlocked.
"All I hope for is to stay consistent and keep growing," she added. "I will become aware of our hitters and give them what they need."
Van Dorn has found her place at Albion off the volleyball court, as well. She enjoys singing and one of her friends wrote VanDorn's name on a form indicating interest in the Euphonics, the college's acapella group, at a recruiting event for student organizations at the start of the semester. VanDorn now sings alto for the group.
"I didn't have intention to sign up, but I am so thankful for the friend who randomly signed me up," VanDorn said. "My teammates were there together (at the group's concert in the student union November). It was great."
Follow the Britons on Twitter: @AlbionVball