Oct. 10, 2010
Maybe She's Born With It?
By Maggie Corwin '12
There is an adage that says talent runs in the blood; a saying which rings true for Northwest Missouri State sophomore setter, Laira Akin. Tina, Laira's mother, played volleyball while pregnant with her, sparking the family joke that Laira was on the court before she was even born.
A native of Kansas City, Mo., Akin picked up her first volleyball at the age of three. A short five years later, she was competing with the city's little league volleyball team.
"Volleyball became my entire life," said Akin. "I played year-round in high school with club volleyball, so it was about the only thing I had time for other than school."
Ask Akin where she attended high school and she might tell you Oakwood Academy, but do not Google it because it cannot be found through any search engine.
"I was homeschooled my entire life," said Akin. "When I signed with Marquette University, they had me come up with a high school name for my bio."
The Greater Kansas City Home School Association, also known as the KC East Lions, provided Akin with the opportunity to play volleyball with other homeschoolers as well as Christian academy students who did not have sports programs.
After spending her freshman year as co-captain with her older sister, Rachel, Akin became the solo captain for the next three years.
"By my senior year I had a lot more experience under my belt," said Akin. "I could provide a more stable leadership position. I had been through every situation imaginable, so I knew how to guide the younger players."
During Akin's four years with KC East, she was a part of four regional championship teams, honored four times as a Homeschool National Tournament All-American where she was named Most Valuable Player her last year. On three separate occasions, she was again awarded the title of MVP in addition to being named to 11 all-tournament teams. Akin also won a Missouri State Championship and two national tournaments.
"The national tournament was really cool," said Akin. "Nationals was always the pinnacle. My junior and senior year there were more than 50 teams there, and being able to win my senior year was amazing."
When Akin was not competing with KC East, she was involved in club volleyball. Under the United States Association of Volleyball, Akin competed with Invasion Volleyball Club and the Junior Olympics, a youth competitive program much like AAU basketball. With the Junior Olympic program, Akin competed in five consecutive USAV Girls' National Tournaments.
Having so many accomplishments made Akin a subject of interest among recruiters. Besides her accomplishments she had another interesting fact to add to her resume. Standing at six-foot, Akin towered over other setters. Her senior year, letters and requests for visits began to pour in.
"Marquette University was my first official visit as a recruit for college," said Akin. "I loved the campus they had and the program they had going. Marquette was a natural choice for me."
Shortly after her career with Division I Marquette began, it abruptly ended.
"I tore my patella tendon, the middle half of it, completely out," said Akin.
At the end of the 2008 season, a coaching change and a different outlook had Akin looking for an alternative.
"The new coach brought in his own setter and told me I probably would not be playing much the next three years," said Akin. "I thought if I was going to be 600 miles from home and not have an opportunity to play, it was not worth sticking around."
Akin set her sights closer to home and on Northwest.
"My parents are able to see me play here," said Akin. "I can go home if I want, and I can actually have a life here with less time commitment at the Division II level. At Marquette, it was basically study, lift, practice and play."
The transition to Northwest was a bumpy ride in itself. It brought another coach change and, unfortunately, another injury to battle.
Last season during a match, Akin suffered a herniated disk. Because of the injury, she needed biweekly cortisone and epidural shots to help with the pain and swelling.
Despite her pain, Akin continued to compete and earned All-MIAA Honorable Mention, ranked seventh in the MIAA with 1,272 assists, led the team with 30 service aces, finished third with 255 digs and fourth with 99 blocks. This past December, she underwent surgery and came back to the court in March earlier than expected but fully healed and ready to play.
This season, Akin is on a roll. She is coming off a weekend in which she totaled a career high 55 assists in a win against Pitt State and added 40 assists and a team high 7 blocks in a win against Southwest Baptist. She was named Athlete of the Week by the MIAA and is using this bye-week to recover for upcoming matches.
"Our motto is one percent better," said Akin. "If each day we get one percent better, we are going to go into the UNO match a new team. I think we've got nothing standing in our way."
Akin almost makes it sound easy. But then again, volleyball is in her blood.
For more information, please contact:
Media Relations Department, Northwest Athletics
firstname.lastname@example.org | 660.562.1118 | Fax: 660.562.1582
Lamkin Activity Center | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468