Girls volleyball: In 1st varsity season, Hutson leads Metea Valley to state
It's hard to believe what all Metea Valley junior Kira Hutson has accomplished this fall. And the crazy thing is she and her Mustangs volleyball teammates may just add the ultimate cherry on top of their sundae at this weekend's state volleyball championships.
Hutson, a 6-foot-3 outside hitter who has burst onto the scene as one of the top offensive threats in the state, is competing in her first varsity season for the Aurora high school, which just so happens to be competing in its first state finals. The 38-2 Mustangs defeated Plainfield North 26-24, 25-22 in a gritty sectional final before topping Andrew 26-24, 25-8 in last Friday's supersectional.
Early this season after one of her many strong efforts and another Mustangs victory, Hutson proclaimed that it was her goal to get Metea Valley coach Dave Macdonald his first state title. The remark seemed a little bold at the time, but as the team piled up wins, went unbeaten in the DuPage Valley Conference and followed with regional, sectional and supersectional plaques, it became clear that the University of Florida recruit should never be doubted.
"Up to this point, we did everything we could and we had an amazing season. We've broken tons of records," she said last week. "We've left our mark on Metea, but I'm confident that we can get more accomplished at state."
As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on high school athletics, the IHSA played a limited volleyball schedule in the spring without a state tournament. Because of this, Hutson and many players throughout the state participated in club ball in the spring rather than play in the shortened high school season that did not include an IHSA state series.
This pushed back Hutson's varsity coming out party until this fall. And come out she did, setting a school record in kills for a single season, helping the team accomplish all kinds of firsts, and picking up Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area Team Captain honors along the way.
Hutson has recorded 438 kills for the season prior to the state finals, and broke the school's single-season record set by Georgia Tech's Mikaila Dowd, the 2017 DuPage County All-Area Team Captain. She also has 45 aces, 30 blocks and is third on the team in digs with 171, showcasing her all-around game.
But it's Hutson's constant smile and attitude around her teammates that is just as impressive to Macdonald.
"She just works so hard. I mean, you know, she's very mature when it comes to her athletic ability. She's not, overly cocky, which is awesome," Macdonald said. "She loves to have fun with the girls and dance and she jokes around with one of the middles on the team that's shorter than her. They joke that they're twins and the other day they were acting like Danny DiVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I'm like, how do you guys even know that movie? But really, she's very humble and just extremely athletic. She's done just a wonderful job of blending with the girls and I think working with Regan [Holmer] in club volleyball kind of helped her maturity level as well."
Holmer, the team's talented senior setter, will play beach volleyball at Grand Canyon next fall. If not for COVID, Holmer would be playing her fourth full varsity season for the Mustangs and her leadership has played a big role in the team's success.
The connection on the court this season between the setter and the elite outside hitter has been electric. Metea opponents know Hutson is going to be the main target, yet they just seldom can slow her down. A lot of hard work -- including training with the national women's team -- and plenty of reps with Holmer, have paid off.
"Me and my setter, we played club together my freshman year and then we played as beach partners a little bit the summer of my freshman year and sophomore year," Hutson said. "So, we've just always had that connection which has really helped on the court. I know I can trust her and I think for awhile now we just saw that trust in each other."
In grade school she loved basketball and even dabbled in gymnastics a bit as a youngster. Hutson never trained with a volleyball club or gave the sport her full attention until her freshman year at Metea, which makes her accomplishments all the more impressive.
"I started club training my freshman year after high school season," she said. "Ever since then, I've just really loved it just worked at it."
It sure has, especially from the outside hitter slot where her leaping ability and smooth stroke make her powerful kills look more artistic than fierce.
"I kind of just did whatever the coach told me to do, so in seventh grade, I just played everywhere," she recalls of her volleyball beginnings. "I didn't really have a set position. I would set a little bit and then eighth grade, I was more of a middle hitter. In my freshman year, I was mostly middle hitter until the middle of the season. That's when I started to change to an outside and then ever since then I've been training outside."
With a hitter like Hutson, it only makes sense to get her as many chances as possible. As for college, there were plenty of possibilities there for her as well. Pounding a volleyball down seemed to come naturally to Hutson, but it took a lot of hard work to bring her game to new levels.
"I knew playing in college was something I wanted to do so I trained hard," she said. "I would get to my club practices, maybe like an hour and a half before everyone else would just to get those extra reps. Personally I think it did come naturally. I've just come to think that it's just something I was born to do."
She received some recruiting mail from Florida her freshman year. With a desire for a warm climate, she also considered UCLA and Texas before committing to become a Gator last June.
"I just really fell in love with [veteran coach] Mary Wise because she has a lot of accolades. She's like, one of the best female coaches and I knew I wanted to play for a strong female coach," said Hutson, who also likes the academic options offered by the school, including those in sports therapy.
Being just a junior, the list of achievements ahead for Hutson should continue to grow, first at Metea and then in college. But first things first -- she'd like nothing more than to help the Mustangs claim their first state title this weekend. Metea Valley takes on Barrington Friday at 8:30 p.m. in the late semifinal at Redbird Arena.
In the night's first match, Mother McAuley plays Edwardsville.
THE ALL-AREA TEAM
Name Year Position School
Reeghan Boyer Sr. L Montini
Sam Buckley Sr. S Benet
Darby Harris Sr. S WW South
Regan Holmer Sr. S Metea Valley
*Kira Hutson Jr. OH Metea Valley
Marin Johnson So. OH Glenbard West
Maddie Kasallis Sr. MB Montini
Calli Kenny So. OH/OPP Willowbrook
Hannah Kenny Fr. S/OPP Willowbrook
Paige Lauterwasser Jr. OH Naperville North
Katie Linnig Sr. S Willowbrook
Taylor Olsen Sr. L WW South
Kara Oxenknecht Sr. MH Naperville North
Paige Pickering Sr. OH Montini
Morgan Rank Sr. L Metea Valley
Liel Thomas Sr. RS Neuqua Valley
Claire Wagner Sr. OH IC Catholic Prep
Aniya Warren Fr. L Benet
Delainy White Sr. L St. Francis
Gwen Wolkow Sr. OH Downers Grove N.
*DuPage County Captain
Honorable mentionAleesa Andresen, sr., libero, Downers Grove South; Rebecca Bellows, soph., OH, WW South; Audrey Brcka, Jr., OH, Wheaton North; Sady Brindl, sr., setter, Downers Grove North; Ella Brend, sr., Libero, Wheaton North; Kenzie Brower, jr.,MB/OH, Naperville Central; Annie Eschenbach, jr., MB, Benet; Ava Falduto, soph., L/OH, ICCP; Jordan Heatherly, jr., setter/opp, Montini; Kateryna Hlyut, Jr., Setter, Lake Park; Addy Horner, fresh., RS/S, St. Francis; Bryanna Jones, jr., OH Neuqua Valley; Anja Kelly, jr., OH/MH, Neuqua Valley; Ashley Kushner, sr., libero, Naperville North; Ella Lawton, sr., OH, York; Marie Lowell, sr., Libero, West Chicago; Ava Novak, soph., OH, Benet; Megan Pihlstrom, sr., RS, Glenbard West; Abby VanderWal, fresh, OH, Timothy Christian; Makayla Webber, sr., MB, Glenbard West