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Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Updated: November 19, 9:47 AM ET
Dorn uncovers hidden talent

By Dan Guttenplan

This story appeared in the Indiana edition of the November ESPN RISE Magazine.

RISE Magazine
After competing at the international level, Anna Dorn is fearless in the face of any opponent.

For the first five years that Anna Dorn played volleyball, she always felt awkward on the court. Her instincts and coordination seemed constantly at odds with her steadily increasing height. By the time she reached her freshman year at Munster (Munster, Ind.), her goal wasn't to be a standout volleyball player -- she just wanted to fit in.

But everything eventually clicked for Dorn, and she is now recognized as the nation's No. 6 senior recruit by and has committed to Illinois. The 6-foot-2 middle blocker is no longer interested in blending in. She believes she can beat anyone, anywhere, anytime.

"I've played international volleyball all over the world, so I know what the best players are like," Dorn says. "I know I've played the best, and I can play against anybody. Not only that, I think I can beat them."

Dorn can make a statement like that without coming off as cocky for two reasons. The first being that it's true. The second being that she's just as quick to make fun of herself about her on-court follies -- like the time she went up for a spike during a match, slipped on a wet spot and crashed down on her back.

Of course, mishaps like that are few and far between these days. Dorn has been a regular on the national scene since being invited to the USA Volleyball High Performance Camp in 2007. She returned to the High Performance Camp in 2008 and helped her squad to the championship in the International Junior Division. Later that year she earned a spot on the Girls' Youth National Team that competed in Croatia and Slovenia. Dorn was selected again by the Youth National Team to participate in this past summer's FIVB Youth World Championship in Thailand, but a stress fracture in her left foot kept her from making the trip.

So what clicked for Dorn that allowed her to go from uncomfortable to unstoppable? For starters, she began playing with the Dunes Volleyball Club in the middle of her freshman year. Dunes coach Scott Shrader first spotted Dorn during the fall season at Munster and noticed her abundant untapped potential.

"I found Anna after the match and told her she needed to play club if she wanted to get better," Shrader says. "She was such a raw athlete. But I knew with a lot of training she could develop into something special."

Dorn joined the Dunes' 15-U team and her game seemed to take off. She was getting stronger and found she could often jump high enough to spike the ball over block attempts and could easily elevate to turn away opponents' would-be kills.

But Shrader could tell Dorn was relying on her size and jumping ability rather than improving her technique. He was also concerned about Dorn's lack of intensity on the floor and worried her aversion to the spotlight would prevent her from becoming a dominant volleyball player.

"As a coach, it was my job to push her to get the maximum amount of what I thought was her talent," says Shrader. "I pushed her mentally with constant repetitive drills, and she broke down a few times."

"Volleyball was so much more difficult for me than any of my teammates on the club team," Dorn adds. "That was a really tough year that I had to get through and persevere."

Anna Dorn
Dorn and Munster (Munster, Ind.) are coming off a sectional title but have their sights set on a state crown.

Shrader's coaching toughened Dorn up while refining her skills, and at the same time she was beginning to harness her natural athleticism. So not only was she no longer feeling awkward on the court, suddenly she was playing the best volleyball of her life.

Dorn came so far so fast that by the end of her freshman year Purdue had offered a scholarship. Many of the nation's top college programs quickly followed suit, including Nebraska, Notre Dame, Stanford and Florida. She ultimately settled on Illinois, committing to the Illini in the fall of her junior year.

Her meteoric rise didn't come without some bumps in the road, such as the injury that prevented her from playing with Team USA this past summer. But Dorn remained as upbeat as possible throughout her rehab, even traveling to California for the team's pre-tournament workouts so she could get to know the rest of the girls and soak in the top-tier coaching.

Considering where she was as a volleyball player just a few years ago, Dorn isn't one to get too high or low based on athletics.

"I don't take extra pride in being good at sports," she says. "That can change at any moment. I want to be a social person everyone can confide in and trust."

In that spirit, Dorn used her injury as an opportunity to develop stronger bonds with her Munster teammates heading into her senior year. According to first-year Munster coach Tracy Afman, Dorn served as a de facto assistant coach during the preseason and spent a lot of time working with the team's underclassmen.

"Playing for the high school team, she's not playing with girls at her level," Afman says. "That could be frustrating for some people, but she never shows that. She never talks about this team as if it's just for fun or not as serious. She carries herself as if this team means everything to her."

After missing the first three weeks of the season this fall, Dorn returned to the Munster lineup in mid-September. Coming off a sectional championship last year, Dorn and the Mustangs were hoping to make a run at the Class 4A state title this season. Dorn's ultimate goal, however, is to play for the U.S. Olympic Team.

Considering all she's accomplished and all she hopes to achieve, it's clear Dorn still hasn't quite solved that problem about fitting in on the court.