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No day may have encapsulated Erin Ripple's season better.

Against a wealth of volleyball talent at the Mount Pulaski tournament, the Mount Zion senior kept chugging away, through five games and 11 sets, from sunrise to past sunset.

Ripple did a little bit of everything, picking up 17 digs, receiving 52 serves (only five errors) and serving herself 36 times (only one error). And what Ripple does best, slam the ball over the net, she did 66 times over the long day.

"I was really tired," she said. "But that was my favorite day out of the whole year."

That was Ripple's season -- carry the weight as the go-to option on offense while picking up the Braves in every other way on the court. That's what makes Ripple the H&R Macon County volleyball Player of the Year, the first Mount Zion player to win the award.

"She does everything," Mount Zion coach Jay McAtee said. "She plays D, she blocks, she hits, she serves."

Maroa-Forsyth's Carly Mason and Savana Sparks were also in consideration.

Ripple doesn't remember why she decided to take up the sport -- none of her friends played and she wasn't exactly a natural.

"I was awful, I was terrible," she said. "I'm pretty sure it was at the DISC and I didn't talk to anyone and I was so skinny. (McAtee) makes fun of me, he says I looked like a baby deer whenever we all started playing."

But the sport stuck. While she took up others sports like softball, something about volleyball called out to her. Even though her swing garnered most of the attention, she genuinely enjoys the less-glorified play, too.

"People underestimate making digs. It's really fun if you can do it and you're good at it," Ripple said.

It's why she plays volleyball 11 months out of the year, traveling with Illini Elite out of Bloomington.

And although McAtee pokes fun at Ripple for her play when she first started, his optimism was high about what she would become before her freshman year started. Ripple exceeded that.

"I remember putting down she will be an offensive star, not knowing that but seeing the possibility," he said. "Not 399 kills, though. You never envision that because that's rare."

What kind of player she would turn into had to wait a while though. She flipped an ATV and broke her wrist, cutting short her freshman season. But playing club volleyball before her sophomore year helped build up some confidence.

"It's really cool, you get to meet and see all the other clubs and competition," she said.

For high school, McAtee put Ripple in the middle sophomore and junior year, using her height to force hitters to alter their swing. That helped round out her game for her senior year where McAtee moved her to the right side.

"She can pretty much shut down anyone else in the middle," he said.

This season, Ripple's role was rebuilt. Not only was she coming in from the right side, but gone was a senior class that made up nearly the rest of the rotation. Coming in were a group of freshmen and sophomores and it was just her and Karmen Loehr who made up the senior class.

"We really didn't know what to expect this year because the seniors last year were such great leaders," Ripple said. "I honestly didn't think the season was going to go that good."

Ripple said she took the senior leadership role and connected with her younger teammates, focusing on creating team harmony.

"She's not a vocal leader, but she's a leader in the fact that all of her teammates see her working hard every day," McAtee said. "Everybody just follows suit.

"You look out there on a 19-game winning streak and there's two freshmen and three sophomores out there and it was just comforting to know you could always go to her when you needed to. But also, she would keep the younger players focused and relaxed."

That came while dealing with much more attention this year. While Mount Zion developed several other offensive options, opponents knew Ripple and operated their gameplan around her. She took what could have been a setback and spun it into a positive.

"That was the one part I got kind of frustrated with," she said. "Like trying to hit and they're digging me because they know I'm going to go -- but that makes me want to switch it up and work on different parts of your game."

Mount Zion's PA announcer would yell, "That's the Ripple effect!" after particularly devastating kills, but that could doubly be used in how the senior's game touched the entirety of the court.

Ripple helped turn the best season in Mount Zion history, a 34-4 record to go along with the second-ever regional title. Besides the 399 kills, she had 41 blocks, 201 digs, and 43 aces as part of a 91.1 serving percentage.

And after losing the first set in the postseason opener against Charleston, she had 18 kills to lead the Braves on a three-set comeback.

"As good of a season she had her junior year, it's a leap in improvement because you had teams completely focused totally on her," McAtee said.

Where Ripple said she really developed her game was in the back row. It was an area she asked McAtee to put her at times, so she could help develop her game for the collegiate level. Ripple is headed to UIS and knows she'll likely see the floor at plenty of different positions.

McAtee obliged. He knew Ripple could not only handle herself there, but her stamina would allow her to play all over the court -- and in the case with the Mount Pulaski tournament, all day. She combined all those elements together for an incredible career.

"It was a good, perfect way to end," she said. "Better than I imagined."

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