COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 12, 2019) – Monique Burkland (Ardmore, Oklahoma) stood out in 2019 on a U.S. Women’s National Sitting Volleyball Team that went 25-0 the year prior to heading to the 2020 Paralympic Games.
For her individual accomplishments, Burkland has been selected as the 2019 USA Volleyball Female Sitting Player of the Year. Teammate Tia Edwards (Skiatook, Oklahoma) was chosen as the 2019 USA Volleyball Female Sitting Most Improved Player of the Year.
The U.S. Women’s Sitting Team, ranked No. 1 in the world and already qualified for the 2020 Paralympic Games, recorded its first-ever undefeated season in 2019 with several candidates worthy of postseason honors. Team USA concluded the year by winning the World ParaVolley World Super 6. The Americans held an impressive 25-0 record with eight of the wins against reigning World ParaVolley world champions Russia. Since the start of the 2017 ParaVolley Pan Am Championships, the U.S. is 51-1 overall with its only loss coming to Russia in the World ParaVolley World Championship gold-medal match in the final contest of 2018.
Burkland started 24 of Team USA’s 25 matches in 2019 and played in 79 of the 85 possible sets. She averaged a team-leading 4.18 points per set, including averages of 2.66 kills, 0.78 blocks and 0.73 aces. Burkland converted 45.9 percent of her attacks into points with a .330 hitting efficiency – both team highs.
“It feels good to be awarded Player of the Year because it shows me that all of my hard work and training is still paying off,” Burkland said. “And if I can just get a little bit better each day, that means my team is getting better as well. I’m excited to see what next year and Tokyo 2020 holds for us.”
While her offense was impressive, Burkland’s talent in the backrow just as stellar. She averaged 1.01 digs per set and produced a team-high .581 reception efficiency (excellent/positive receptions minus reception errors divided by total attempts). Burkland was also named Best Server of the World ParaVolley World Super 6 held in November in Japan.
U.S. Women’s National Sitting Volleyball Team Head Coach Bill Hamiter commended Burkland for her consistent high-level play throughout 2019.
“Monique Burkland did an outstanding job this year,” Hamiter said. “She is recognized for her serving capabilities, but she is a wonderful all-around player. She was our best passer, had the highest kill percent, had the highest attack efficiency, had the second highest blocks for points and had the highest dig percent for the team this year.”
Burkland’s ability to play multiple positions on the court was a valuable commodity for the team throughout the season.
“Monique can be used as an outside hitter or a middle blocker, which gives me a significant amount of flexibility when designing match plans,” Hamiter said. “Her presence on the court gives us an added dimension that most teams don’t have.”
“It means a lot because it is showing that all of the small things are coming together and working well for us,” Burkland said. “As always there is room to improve and we have to keep pushing and getting better to stay ahead of our opponents.”
While the U.S. went undefeated in 2019 and have won 51 of its last 52 matches, Burkland believes doing the “little things right” will make a big difference when it comes time for the Paralympic Games.
“One major thing our coach Bill Hamiter has been stressing on us is doing the little things right,” Burkland said. “If we can continue to do the little things right, then the big things will fall into place. We have also been working a lot on team dynamic which is making us all more comfortable with each other on and off the court.”
Edwards played in 46 sets in 2019 with 12 match starts. In total, she scored 103 points with a 2.24 points per set average. Edwards compiled 1.28 kills, 0.50 blocks and 0.46 aces per set in 2019. She had a .300 hitting efficiency by converting 39.3 percent of her attacks into points.
“I am humbled and thankful to receive this honor,” Edwards said. “I have been putting in hours of effort, tears and dedication into my training for almost six years now. I could not have gotten this point in my career without my incredible teammates and coaching staff pushing and support me to reach the best of my abilities.”
“Tia Edwards made significant statistical improvements over her play from last year,” Hamiter said. “A couple of key skills that we needed her to improve in were attacking and blocking. Her attack percent increased by 11% and her block percent increased by 7%.”
Edwards, born with a congenital birth defect to her left hand, made significant improvements in her game in 2019 all while with a challenging physical change to her game.
“The staff challenged Tia to begin using a prosthetic arm when she played, which she had never done before,” Hamiter said. “She accepted the challenge and worked hard to make that significant change. It has really paid off. I am looking for more improvements as she continues to get comfortable with the prosthetic arm.”
“My challenges now that I have been playing with an arm after almost 25 years without is a little bit of everything,” Edwards said. “I have had to relearn to pass and set, and how I toss the ball when I serve. It’s all so much different then what I grew up doing. I wasn’t the best blocker because other teams would just hit over my nubby. Now that I have my arm, it definitely takes that shot away from the opponents. So it has its pros and cons!”