Back in 1985, Gatorade established an award honoring the nation's top high school student-athletes. Since then, the Gatorade Player of the Year award has recognized more than 12,500 state and national winners in 12 sports.
Gatorade Player of the Year alumni include household names like Kevin Love, Dwight Howard, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, Candace Parker, Kerri Walsh and Abby Wambach—a distinguished group, indeed.
This week, we're catching up with former Gatorade Volleyball Players of the Year who are playing in the NCAA Final Four.
Since the Gatorade Player of the Year family is an exclusive fraternity/sorority, there could be a lot of knowing winks and special handshakes going around Thursday’s NCAA Women’s Volleyball Final Four.
On the four teams still vying for college volleyball’s national championship—Wisconsin, Penn State, Washington and Texas—there are 20 (count ‘em, 20!) former Gatorade State Volleyball Players of the Year on the collective rosters. When you factor in players who won the award multiple times, there are 27 POY trophies in all.
That group includes a pair of Gatorade National Volleyball Players of the Year in Wisconsin’s Lauren Carlini (2012, Illinois) and Washington’s Krista Vansant (2010, California).
For her part, Carlini still lists winning Gatorade National POY honors as her most memorable accomplishmentin the sport, which is quite a statement from a 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, who has led an overachieving Badger team to the brink of the NCAA final.
As a high school senior in 2012, Carlini amassed 333 kills, 303 assists, 156 digs and 92 service aces for West Aurora (Ill.) High. She’s averaging 10.9 assists per match for Wisconsin this fall.
Vansant, meanwhile, has a legitimate shot at the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Division I National Player of the Year award. She has already recorded 504 kills with a .323 hitting percentage and 318 digs for the Huskies, capturing Pac-12 Player of the Year honors.
In 2010, Vansant recorded 589 kills (.557 kill percentage) and 299 digs, leading Redlands (Calif.) Valley East High to California’s Division I regional semifinals.
With Carlini and Vansant leading the way, the NCAA Final Four will be a virtual who’s who of Gatorade winners. Perhaps shockingly, Vansant is the only Gatorade alumnus on Washington’s roster, but Wisconsin has five and both Texas and Penn State feature seven apiece.
Hannah Allison (2009 and 2010, Arkansas)
Tiffany Baker (2011, Texas)
Nicole Dalton (2012 and 2013, Colorado)
Amy Neal (2012, Texas)
Chiaka Ogbogu (2013, Texas)
Sarah Palmer (2009 and 2010, Hawaii)
Bailey Webster (2008 and 2009, Maryland)
Megan Courtney (2012, Ohio)
Micha Hancock (2010 and 2011, Oklahoma)
Maddie Martin (2010, Florida)
Deja McClendon (2010, Kentucky)
Kelly Robertson (2013, Pennsylvania)
Ariel Scott (2009 and 2010, New Jersey)
Aiyana Whitney (2011, New Jersey)
Crystal Graff (2010 and 2011, Wisconsin)
Annemarie Hickey (2010, Illinois)
Deme Morales (2010, Ohio)
Taylor Morey (2011, Indiana)
With so many former winners on the court, it’s a sure bet that no matter which team emerges victorious, someone is going to find the inevitable postgame Gatorade shower to be extra sweet.