By Walter Villa
When Beth Prince started playing volleyball in sixth grade, she was -- by her own admission -- “awful.”
“I would whiff on the ball completely,” Prince said. “It was pretty embarrassing. I’m just happy people didn’t record my games. If somebody had those tapes, I’d freak out.”
Prince can relax. Two years after she took up the sport, she had her first college scholarship offer from Wisconsin.
This past season, the 6-foot-3 outside hitter led Avon (Ind.) to its best season ever, earning her ESPNHS Freshman of the Year honors.
Avon completed the first undefeated regular season in school history at 33-0, but fell one win short of what would have been the Orioles’ initial state title. They finished 39-1 and came in 13th in the final POWERADE FAB 50 national rankings.
Prince led the Orioles with 453 kills and a .343 hitting percentage, earning first-team All-State -- a rarity for a freshman.
Not that individual statistics or honors mattered much to the 15-year-old. When Avon coach Scott McQueen notified her she had made All-State, she told her parents the news but couldn’t recall the details.
“I had to text Scott because I couldn’t remember what it was called,” Prince said.
“My parents always taught me to be humble, and Scott told me the same thing. I think they’re right. When you get a big head, bad things happen.”
Katie Higginbotham, a senior outside hitter who will play next season at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, said she and the other Avon veterans never worried about Prince getting an ego.
“She gets all these awards, and she has no idea,” Higginbotham said. “She is clueless half the time.”
Higginbotham added that Prince is already one of the best players in Avon history.
“I can’t imagine how good she is going to be over the next three years,” she said. “If you pass it anywhere near her, she is going to get the kill. I don’t even worry about it.”
Prince’s athletic career began in the third grade, when she started playing basketball. It was the sport her mother, Laura, played at Eastern Illinois University as a 6-2 starting center.
Prince now competes in high school basketball but doesn’t plan on playing the sport in college. Still, her mother said Prince is plenty dangerous in basketball.
“I used to play her one-on-one until she got those big elbows,” Laura Prince said. “I wanted to keep my dental work, so I backed out of those games about a year ago.”
If only it were so easy for Prince’s volleyball opponents to avoid her crushing spikes. McQueen said Prince is already a “tremendous” offensive player and is developing on defense.
The coach said Prince is a powerful hitter even though she is not anywhere close to how strong she will get as she starts a weightlifting program and matures physically.
“She can hit through people, which is surprising because she still needs to get stronger,” McQueen said. “She has grown so much (in height) the past two or three years, and I’m not a big believer in the weight room during the time the body is developing.”
One of the keys for Prince is how much she loves volleyball. Even when she wasn’t very good, she still loved the sport. That love -- and her competitive nature -- motivated her to spend the summer of her eighth-grade year working virtually non-stop to improve.
The scholarship offers came flying in soon after that, and she now lists Texas atop her wish list.
Prince, though, is smart enough to know that she is still a long way from college -- she doesn’t even drive yet -- and is careful to add that she is open to any school, listing Indiana, Purdue, Illinois and Kentucky as other possible destinations.
“I don’t want to rule anyone out,” Prince said. “It’s an honor that they are looking at me, and it’s fun to know I’m good enough to go places.”
Prince -- her father calls her “Ocho” because she wears No. 8 -- is already the tallest person in her family. Her father, Chuck, is 6-2, and her brother, Zack, a senior who is a drummer on Avon’s nationally recognized marching band, is 6-0.
Prince praised McQueen for helping her through the recruiting process.
“Without him, I would be so lost on what to do,” she said. “When I started getting these letters, he told me, ‘Beth, you can’t get a big head about this stuff.’
“The truth is, you get all these letters that say, ‘Beth, you’re so awesome,’ but it’s just a piece of paper. I take it as a compliment and then go back to work on my game.”
Most of that work is on defense. Prince is aware she’s already a dynamic finisher, so she’s making the effort to improve her passing, serve-receiving and blocking.
She also wants to lead Avon to its first state title after the Orioles lost the 2011 Class 4A final in four sets to Penn (38-1).
“It was awful,” Prince said of the defeat. “I have this red medal (second place) instead of a blue one, and I get mad every time I look at it.
“I’m already looking forward to next season so we can get back to state and change that outcome.”