For Atoa and Bakker it is all about becoming a better person off and on the court
Kyle Bruderer | Sports writer | @BrudKyle
For the past three seasons, there have been two constants in the Utah Valley University volleyball program, head coach Sam Atoa and senior middle blocker Lauren Bakker.
Atoa is in his 17th season as head coach of the Wolverines and has posted a .661 winning percentage. Bakker returns for her senior season after becoming UVU’s all-time leader in total blocks (453), block assists (401), solo blocks (52), and blocks per set (1.34).
“I’m just playing,” Bakker said. “I didn’t even know I broke records until people told me so I was just like, oh that’s cool.”
Bakker has earned All-WAC First Team honors in each of the past two seasons. She also earned Great West Conference Newcomer of the Year honors during her freshman season where she set the single-season record for total blocks with 148. Bakker was also named the Western Athletic Conference Preseason Player of the Year for the second straight season and considers it an honor, but doesn’t read too much into it.
“I don’t feel pressure from it, it’s a wonderful compliment and it’s awesome that other teams recognize me, but preseason is nothing,” Bakker said. “It’s just what people think, but I haven’t proven anything yet.”
With nearly the entire 2015 season ahead of UVU, Bakker is on track to become the Wolverines’ all-time attack percentage leader. She recorded an impressive .352 attack percentage as a junior bumping her career percentage up to .308 and putting her in second place behind only Jessica Endres’ career average of .332.
“I just want to do better than I did last year in every single category whether it’s blocking, hitting, or serving and as a team I want us to go to the NCAA tournament,” said Bakker. Head Coach Sam Atoa knows all about coaching a high-profile player as he has coached numerous players, including assistant coach Lacee Koelliker-Jones, who have earned NCAA Independent Player of the Year honors as well as multiple First-Team All-Conference performers. Atoa appreciates not only Bakker’s athletic talents but her character as well.
“She’s a great kid and she brings so much to this program not only as an athlete, but as a person,” said Atoa. “She’s doing very well in school as well, so as a student athlete she is bringing what we’re expecting.”
Many coaches might take their coaching pride from recruiting extraordinary athletes or winning championships. But for Atoa the thing he is most prideful of is the opportunity to have a lasting impact on his players’ lives.
“It wasn’t too long ago when we had several of the alumni come on campus to play and reminisce on the court and we were able to spend some time with them,” said Atoa. “When you see them leave when they’re done here and then see that they are successful 10 years later that’s what motivates me and drives me to keep doing what I do.”
With the first 11 matches of the season on the road and their home opener coming up on Saturday September 15 against crosstown rival and 9th-ranked BYU, Atoa knows how it can take a toll on his players but also knows they have to keep working and growing as a team.
“These girls are resilient,” Atoa said. “They’re in good shape. We knew that this would happen as far as the schedule goes so I think the girls are doing fine. We just have to make sure that during practice, during trips, and after trips we are doing certain things to keep them going.”