By Paul Money
There have been plenty of great athletes to roll through the halls, gyms and fields of West Holmes High School.
The first names that come to mind are Lisa Cline, Joe Norman and Colt Sponseller as former West Holmes athletes that reached a completely different level while representing the red, white and royal.
And now there is officially another name to add to the long list of West Holmes greats. It is West Holmes junior volleyball player Lauren Park.
This fall Park has put together one of the greatest seasons by any West Holmes athlete to every come through the doors of West Holmes High.
Against Madison on Sept. 1 Park ripped a single-game record 40 kills in a Lady Knights five-set comeback win on the road over the Rams. That game at Madison would start off the stretch of record-breaking efforts by Park.
In a three-game loss to Lexington on Sept. 29 Lauren Park surpassed 1,000 career kills and then set her sites on Mel Mohr (2001), who owned the career record with 1,118 kills at West Holmes.
Mohr put up that gaudy number in four seasons at West Holmes and later become a Div. I player at Bowling Green. Park had a chance to surpass Mohr in just three seasons, and she did it with ease.
Against Philo in the Div. II sectional tournament game on Oct. 17 Park had crept closer to Mohr’s record and trailed her by just 24 kills. In a five-set game she blew the record away with 43 kills against the Electrics in a Lady Knights’ five-set win that also propelled them to the next round of the tournament. That meant her 25th kill against Philo is when she passed Mohr, and she then padded the record with 18 more bone-crushing kills.
The 43 kills against Philo is even more than the 40 she had earlier in the season, thus breaking her own record she set just a month prior.
That 43-kill effort against Philo ranks sixth best all-time in the state of Ohio for kills in a single game. Lexington’s Mackenzie Weaver holds the record at 51 when she had herself a day against Orrville on Oct. 10, 2015.
Heading into the sectional championship with Indian Valley on Thursday, Oct. 20, Park currently has 476 kills this season, which puts her just 23 kills away from 500. 467 blasts to the floor this season currently puts her at 31st in the all-time state record books for kills in a season.
It’s been a special season for the lanky right-handed bringer of pain, and Park said there is still work to do.
“It would be really awesome if I could break my record for most kills in a match once again this season for the third time,” Park said. “I also still have next year to add to my career kills record and make that high enough that it’s going to be really tough to pass.”
Coming into the season, there were some questions looming for the Lady Knights, who lost six great senior leaders from a season who reached the regional tournament. Also 20-year coach and father of Park, Jim Park, stepped away from coaching at West Holmes after a long and successful tenure.
“Since we lost six seniors who were all leaders on the court, we’ve had to refocus a bit,” Park said. “Kacie Leppla has stepped up tremendously, and I think we have regained the void left by last year.”
With Park leading the way, the Lady Knights are 13-10 on the season and still alive in the state tournament.
Park said the biggest difference this season other than her dad not being on the sidelines barking at her is she is now playing all six rotation spots rather than just the front row like a season ago.
“The first two years in high school I didn’t play the back row,” Park said. “Now I play in all six rotations as I’m trying to be an offensive weapon in both the front and back row. Playing all six rotations is just making me a better all-around volleyball player.”
Park has befuddled opposing teams by her effectiveness to score from the back all season as it adds another thing the opposing team must defend. Also kills played from the back row are a lot tougher for the defense to block. It really doesn’t seem to matter where first-year coach Savannah Moore puts her. She can attack from it, and it usually ends in a Lady Knights’ point.
Park said it’s a little different not having her dad on the sidelines this season, but Moore has created an upbeat environment, which has brought the team closer together.
“Coach Moore has really made us feel like we are part of a family,” Park said. “She has brought a lot of excitement to the program, and I enjoy that. It’s different, but I love having coach Moore here. It was weird at first towards the beginning of the season because I was so used to my dad being on the sideline and yelling at me.”
Jim Park started his tenure at West Holmes in 1996, which meant that Lauren Park and sister Cara Park were around the game at an early age. They also were learning the game of volleyball from an absolute volleyball Jedi in the area in their father.
“A lot of players in our area started playing when they reached middle school, and I was already playing when I was in third grade,” Lauren Park said.
Cara Park also was a legend at West Holmes and is now attending Akron University. The four-time All-Ohioan, however, missed the entire season this fall due to injury.
Cara and Lauren Park’s mother Lynda also attended Akron and played for three seasons.
“Having my parents encourage me at home from a young age and also while in the gym has helped me become the player that I am right now,” Lauren Park said. “My sister also pushes me to get better every day.”
One reason Jim Park ended his tenure at West Holmes was so he would be able to coach Lauren Park during her club season that lasts from December to July.
“He’ll be able to coach me all year round now instead of just three months,” Lauren Park said. “Club ball will start in December, and then I won’t have a break again until July. In the offseason I am in the gym every day at least two hours with my dad.
That hard work, traveling all over the map and dedication also has paid off with a Div. I scholarship.
Lauren Park has already committed to play at Ohio University and will become a Bobcat in the fall of 2018.
“There is nothing that I didn’t like about O.U.,” Lauren Park said. “I looked around the whole campus, and there wasn’t one thing that I didn’t like. I loved everything about it. The first day I was there they made me feel like I was part of the family.”
Well Ohio University is getting a real gem, and perhaps it is a player that has had the best seasons a West Holmes’ athlete has ever had.
And it’s not quite over.