Baker learns game quickly

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

STEPHENS CITY — Sherando volleyball coach James Minney was at a basketball game three years ago and noticed one of his tall art students was doing cheerleading and decided to ask her to give volleyball a try. Three years later, both Minney and Michelle Baker are glad she did.

The 6-foot-1 Baker, now a Sherando senior, has quickly become a dominant presence for the Warriors. Baker said she learned a lot from Minney, who was the JV head coach at the time.

“Sophomore year was the first year I played [on a team], I’d never even been to a game before,” Baker said. “Minney has taught me everything I know, besides club team with Jerry Wampler. He’s taught me everything. He’s helped me a lot — whenever they did open gyms he would pull me in with them, and I would get a whole bunch of practice there. He’s just taught me a lot.

“It’s been a lot of fun. I’m really glad he got me into it, because this is my favorite thing to do now — I love it.”

Minney said Baker is a very hard worker and very coachable, which helped her to learn the game quickly.

Last year was Baker’s first full season on varsity. She finished with 92 kills and 48 blocks.

The middle blocker is having another strong season this year. She has 76 kills and 22 blocks for the Warriors this year.

In a four-set victory over Millbrook last week, Baker had a team-high 13 kills and three blocks. Her performance helped earn her The Northern Virginia Daily Female Athlete of the Week for Oct. 5-11.

The Pioneers won a set earlier this season against last year’s Group 4A state semifinalist James Wood, so Baker said she knew it would be a tough match.

“Since we heard they took a game from James Wood, we assumed they were going to be some big competition,” Baker said. “They did play pretty well. I thought they played pretty well against us. I was really excited to be able to hit to get some kills against them, and be able to play against them since they are big rivals.”

Baker said she enjoys blocking a little more then hitting because blocks don’t happen as often, and even has a favorite type of block.

“The ones where they hit my arm, they hit my forearm and they just go straight down and no one can touch them. They’re like behind the net — I love those,” Baker said.

Baker will get the opportunity to have some more blocks tonight when the Warriors host James Wood and Notre Dame commit Katie Houser.

The Warriors played the Colonels tough in their first meeting at James Wood, but still lost in three sets.

Baker said it’s fun going up against a player of Houser’s caliber.

“She’s a really good hitter,” Baker said. “So it’s really fun. I can cover her and blocking for our defense, so they’re not taking the full blow for it. It’s really fun. When I do get a block off her it’s so much fun because she really is a good hitter. It’s just so much fun because then I know that I’m up there with her.”

Minney said that one of the things that makes Baker tough is her composure or demeanor on the court.

“She always seems relaxed, never intense or tight,” Minney said. “It’s interesting because nothing fazes her. You can block her and block her and block her, and she’ll still hit it and hit it and hit it, and if she gets through it’s great. if she gets blocked, she doesn’t worry about it. She doesn’t dwell on anything. It’s different. She’s a girl you can’t get into her head.”

She also has the ability to change the way an offense attacks.

“She changes your offense and that helps out a lot,” Minney said. “You’re not going to stop girls. You’re obviously not going to stop Houser, you’re not going to stop some of these girls, but if you can just change their offense a little bit. Make Houser hit from some other area, make her do something that she doesn’t normally do — or anybody, for that matter. I think that’s what Michelle does. She’ll make you think twice. She’ll make you hit over the top of the block. If you hit over the top of the block, you’re probably going to hit the ball out. She does a lot of things on the court that can change the other team’s offense and that’s what we look for.”

The Warriors have won seven of their last 10 matches, after an 0-4 start. Baker said she thinks the team can continue their strong surge into the postseason.

“If we play like we have against rival schools, if we play our top game, I think we can go far,” Baker said. “I don’t know how far, but I think we can do really well to where we’re proud of ourselves.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com