FRONT ROYAL — Aaliyah Chunn wasn’t worried so much about her blocking ability.
As a junior on Skyline’s volleyball team last year, the 6-foot-1 Chunn emerged as an imposing presence at the net for the Hawks and finished with 51 blocks, a total that led all players from the six public high schools in the Daily’s coverage area.
Chunn felt she had that area of her game down pat, but with graduation swiping Skyline’s top two kill leaders after the 2018 season and leaving Chunn as the team’s top option among the returnees, she knew her hitting needed to progress.
Wanting to improve her ability to spike shots through the arms of opposing blockers and widen her versatility with shot placement, Chunn focused on those aspects during travel volleyball and at camps in the offseason.
“Over the summer I’d done a couple of things to keep myself kind of in shape coming into the season,” Chunn said recently, “so I think this year I was more prepared and I knew that I was gonna have to step up and I was always gonna have to be able to be counted on. That definitely crossed my mind as far as making sure I was always ready.”
Chunn was everything the Hawks needed her to be on the court this past season and led Skyline to its first winning season in the program’s 13-year history.
The senior remained a force at the net and matched her 51 blocks from a year ago — she again led the area in that category — and this time she paired that with a fantastic display on the offensive end, finishing with 171 kills to easily eclipse her entire output from her first two seasons at the varsity level (132).
Chunn, who added 43 aces from the service line, ranked among the top four in the area in all three statistical categories and was rewarded for her performance at season’s end when she was named the Player of the Year in the Class 3 Northwestern District and Region 3B and first team all-state in Class 3.
Chunn, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2019 Volleyball Player of the Year, said her emergence as a dangerous offensive weapon this season included a rise in the power behind her shots, but just as important was her ability to adjust mid-attack to find the open hole.
The senior said she needed that latter part of her game to remain effective this season as teams took notice of her ability as a hitter and began altering the way they defended her.
“It’s not always about the intensity or power you put behind the hit,” Skyline head coach Erika Berry said. “We also talked about just being smart. There were some teams coming out and seeing Aaliyah and they were putting three blockers on her. Well if there’s three blockers on you then there’s open spots on the court, so she was going to this job of just tipping over them, and it was working. It’s sometimes hard to get through to hitters that it doesn’t always have to be hard-driven power, just be smart and wait for it, and she was able to take that thinking and really make it work for her.”
One of the underrated aspects of her rise as a hitter, Chunn added, was her on-court chemistry with senior setter and longtime teammate Adrianne Kinsey, who finished the season with 232 assists.
Chunn said she and Kinsey have been volleyball teammates since seventh grade, and though she admitted that they “haven’t really had the best chemistry” for most of their careers, during the 2019 season they were able to find it and “put it to use.”
“Definitely this year (they) talked more,” Berry said of the duo, “but with them knowing each other and how each other played, it was as a setter-hitter relationship to read each other. Like if Adrianne’s in trouble, she knew where to go to help her out to make that set easier.”
And when Chunn wasn’t unleashing a spike or tipping the ball off a set from Kinsey or sophomore setter Grace Benson, she was thwarting her opponents’ attempts at kills. Being tall certainly helps, but Chunn said there’s an art to being an effective blocker, as well.
“It has a lot to do with trying to find the person’s arm, trying to judge off of which way they’re going to hit and how they’re going to hit it,” she said. “It’s not always easy but it’s definitely something that can be done. But most everything just has to do with following them and seeing how they are as a hitter.”
Chunn added that she studies opposing hitters to get a grasp of their tendencies.
“I’m one of those people who kind of remembers everyone, so if I’ve played them before, it’s easier to judge off of that,” Chunn said. “But we haven’t, warmups is definitely a big factor, just paying attention to how they hit or if they’re right-handed or left-handed. That definitely helps a lot.”
To add even more versatility to her game, Chunn went from doing very little serving for the Hawks the previous two seasons to becoming adept at what Berry called an “aggressive” jump-serve in 2019.
“As far as going out senior season, I just wanted to leave it all there,” Chunn said.
Also a standout high-jumper for Skyline’s indoor and outdoor track and field teams (she won the Region 3B outdoor championship in the event and placed fifth in the state at the Class 3 meet), Chunn said she’ll attend Shenandoah University next year and compete in volleyball and track and field for the Hornets.
She departs Skyline’s volleyball program with the satisfaction that she did indeed give everything she could for the Hawks during their 11-10 season.
“This was like the best season I’ve ever been a part of as far as working together,” Chunn said. “Overall, just seeing my improvement through stats, how far I’ve come, but this year was one of the best because we had younger girls and … (the players for) the years to come are there. Those younger girls are gonna be able to step up even after us six seniors leave.”