COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 15, 2017) – Like so many volleyball stories, the story of Monique Burkland’s 2017 season begins with a serve.
“After seven years, everything clicked,” Burkland said. “My serve is better than it has ever been. With my hard work, I think it’s going to get even better.”
That serve led to the veteran outside hitter being named USA Volleyball’s 2017 Female Sitting Player of the Year. Her teammate, middle blocker Tia Edwards, has been named Female Sitting Most Improved Player.
Burkland, 28, can’t define exactly what changed with her serve.
“I had been holding back because I didn’t want to miss the serve,” she said. “But I got more confident and started going for it. One day my arm swing, I did something different and it all clicked. I was getting better snap on the ball.”
Burkland was named Best Server at both of her team’s major 2017 competitions, the World Super 6 and the ParaVolley Pan America Championships. She was also named MVP at the Pan Am Championships.
Burkland also won the Player of the Year award in 2015. She is a two-time Paralympic medalist, including being an integral part of the 2016 gold-medal win in Rio de Janeiro.
Head Coach Bill Hamiter said Monique is much more than just a great server.
“Monique is a well-rounded player,” he said. “She can do almost every skill well. She is one of the better servers in the world. Put that scoring ability in with the other ways she can score. She sees the court for attacks as well as anybody. Add in her passing ability, defense and blocking and she has meant a lot to this team.”
Hamiter also had positive words for Edwards, who was named Most Improved.
“Tia improved her play in an all-around way,” he said. “She can be used in almost any position besides setting. She has really increased her capability in hitting. Her serving has always been good, but she’s picked it up a notch as well.”
Edwards, 22, was not interested in pursuing sitting volleyball when she first heard about it.
“I honestly didn’t want to, in the beginning, because I didn’t feel that I was disabled,” she said. “Bill (Hamiter) encouraged me to come to camp and I fell in love with it.”
Edwards was on the 2016 Paralympic Team that won the gold medal in Rio, but did not see much playing time. At the beginning of 2017, she played a larger role at the World ParaVolley World Super 6 Tournament in China.
“Some of my teammates weren’t there and I had to go in and play,” Edwards said. “I had to give everything I had and contribute.”
Edwards was ready to contribute because of the training she had been getting at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. She moved back to Edmond after moving to Florida at the end of 2016.
“I moved to Florida to get of the cold weather. I wanted warm weather and the beach,” Edwards said.
“Things just didn’t work out down there. I wanted to come home and get extra touches. Playing sitting volleyball by yourself is not ideal.”
Female Sitting Players of the Year
2017: Monique Burkland
2016: Heather Erickson
2015: Monique Burkland
2014: Kaleo Kanahele
2013: Heather Erickson
2012: Katie Holloway
2011: Katie Holloway
2010: Kari Miller
2007: Lora Webster
Female Sitting Most Improved Player of the Year
2017: Tia Edwards
2016: Nicky Nieves
2015: Lexi Shifflett