College volleyball: Cottonwood grads help lead Westminster
Westminster College's Emily Atkinson has been setting up Alexis Aalona for a long time.
Since playing at Cottonwood High, Atkinson has been feeding Aalona, a partnership that has scored big for the Griffins as they enter the Frontier Conference tournament Friday at Montana Tech.
Westminster enters the conference tournament at 7-8 in conference, which gives the Griffins hope they can get on a roll.
"I think we're the dark-horse favorite," coach Kim Norman said. "In a time when the conference is a lot more competitive, I think this is one of the best teams I've ever coached."
Leading the attack for the Griffins is Atkinson, a junior. Her 10.6 assists per set leads the conference, and her role as playmaker has given Westminster a 14-12 overall record.
Atkinson's role on the court is similar to a quarterback. She has to know where the lapses in defense are and set up her hitters in the best location.
"It's definitely all about connecting with your teammates and exploding on the ball at the right time," Atkinson said. "We're always striving to play our best."
At the net, Aalona, a sophomore, has made it her mission to properly execute and find the right holes in the defense. Her .178 kills percentage leads the conference, and she attributes her success to Atkinson's leadership and ball placement.
"We have awesome communication and connect really well," Aalona said.
The transition to playing volleyball at the college level initially was difficult for Aalona. The game moved faster, the players were stronger and the competition more intense. She credits playing for the Utah Juniors, an elite traveling team, for preparing her for her first college match.
"Last year when I played my first game, I was like 'Oh gosh. This is like club play times 10,' " Aaolona said. "I'm finally playing my game."
Norman is confident her team can come together during the conference tournament and advance to the NAIA national championship.
"The kids that come out the hottest will win, and we're on the right track for the [conference] finals," Norman said. "It's all a matter of who can execute."
Emily Atkinson is 115 assists from a being the third player in school history to get 1,000 assists in a season.
Alexis Aalona leads the conference in kills percentage at .178.
Atkinson is an elementary education major. Aalona is undecided.