They are never together, but Allyson Crisp and Olivia White, Clark College volleyball team’s middle hitters, are as close as two best friends can be.
While they don’t occupy the court at the same time, their impact is unmistakable as the Northwest Athletic Conference’s top-two blockers. Watch and observe, and you’ll see what coach Mark Dunn describes as a Pacific-12 Conference-type play at the net from his 6-foot-2 middles.
In 34 years coaching volleyball, his fifth at Clark, Dunn knows talent but in those same three-plus decades of coaching, he also knows how to push buttons to get the most out of that talent.
Even in the most unconventional ways.
What better way to get the competition brewing between Crisp, a sophomore from Eugene, and White, a freshman and Skyview High School graduate, than what Dunn purposefully did: List Crisp, his returning NWAC leader in blocks from 2016, an inch shorter than her actual height on the 2017 roster for no other reason than to get her blood boiling.
“And the next thing you know,” Dunn said, “they’ve been competing ever since.”
The pair have been the conference’s leaders in blocks per set and total blocks all season entering Thursday’s NWAC Volleyball Championships, continuing Clark’s trend of blocking dominance in the conference since Dunn’s arrival in 2013. The Penguins (31-6) open the four-day postseason tournament with a first-round match against Highline at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center.
This marks the fifth consecutive year Clark tops the NWAC in blocking, aided by the play of Crisp (1.39 blocks per set, conference-leading 129 total blocks) and White (1.33, also the conference leader with 40 solo blocks).
Dunn, an ex-middle himself, stresses the importance of defense and it begins at the net. When recruiting middles, height helps of course, but surprisingly, isn’t the main factor he looks for. Two years ago, Clark middle hitter Alexis Cone stood 5-9.
“For me, it’s quickness,” he said. “That’s a plus in our program. You have to be able to get pin to pin (antenna to antenna), and teach technique from there.”
Technique was something neither Crisp, out of Eugene’s Sheldon High with one year of varsity volleyball, nor White, who attended Seton Catholic, Ridgefield and Skyview, and even part-time home-schooled, particularly had when arriving at Clark. But there was plenty of upside starting with pure athleticism, size, and of course that competitive edge fueled by a quickly established friendship, which led to mentoring and now coaching one another.
“She can help me and I can help her, and we don’t take it personally,” White said. “We’re trying to make each other better.”
Originally a Saint Martin’s signee, White was the final member to Clark’s 2017 squad following a two-day tryout in August after practices already were under way.
Crisp, a fellow “giant,” as she calls herself, was impressed by White.
“She was busting her butt off all over the court, and she was legit,” Crisp said. “She fit in pretty well.”
Within a week of becoming teammates, the two say, they were completing each other’s sentences, and when they met for a story interview this week, they arrived from practice wearing the same outfits and wore their dark-brown hair braided identically.
“We’re twins,” Crisp said.
Of course, “twins” who are equally dominant on the defense as they are aggressive on the attack. In volleyball, the outside hitters often carry most of the offensive load, but Crisp and White swing more than most middles. They take an average 20-25 swings per match.
But there’s still something special about being a part of every play, which is why execution for being at the first line of defense begins with persistence.
“When you want to be good at something,” Crisp said, “you practice at it. I love it; it’s my favorite thing.”
Dunn said when the pair became friends, the team went to the next level and a big reason for the team’s 31-win season. For the second straight year, Crisp led the NWAC in total blocks and is likely headed to NAIA Eastern Oregon to finish out her career. White’s future is just as bright, Dunn said.
“If you start for us in the middle, you’re going places,” Dunn said.
NWAC Volleyball Championship
At Greater Tacoma Convention Center
Pierce vs. Mt. Hood, 9 a.m.
Edmonds vs. Walla Walla, 9 a.m.
Chemeketa vs. Centralia, 11:30 a.m.
Columbia Basin vs. Whatcom, 11:30 a.m.
Bellevue vs. Spokane, 2 p.m.
Highline vs. Clark, 2 p.m.
North Idaho vs. Shoreline, 4:30 p.m.
Lower Columbia vs. Linn-Benton, 4:30 p.m.
Loser’s bracket matches at 6:30 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.
Live match results, stats at www.nwacsports.org