PLAYING WITH SWAGGER, STINSON HELPS YORKTOWN VOLLEYBALL REACH STATE FINALS
By DOUG ZALESKI
The numbers don’t seem to make sense.
At 5 feet, 3 inches tall, Yorktown outside hitter Ellee Stinson’s size seems better suited for a player who might be a back-row specialist or setter. In reality, she probably could fill any role on a volleyball court.
The quick, high-leaping senior is an important emotional sparkplug, one of the top kill leaders, and among the hardest working players on a Tigers team that is unbeaten this year and will play for the Class 4A state championship this week.
“She takes pride in the fact that she’s small but is still able to do a lot in the front row,” 13th-year Yorktown coach Stephanie Bloom said. “At her size and what she’s able to do, you have to have a little swag about you, and that makes her good. She’s not afraid of anybody across the net.”
Two summers ago, the Tigers were doing a box jump contest. One of their players jumped up on a 48-inch box. After seeing that, Stinson was determined to duplicate the feat. Despite her small stature, she successfully made the leap, and the entire team went crazy, according to Bloom.
“It’s pretty incredible to watch a 5-3 kid jump on a 48-inch box,” Bloom said. “She obviously has some God-given athletic ability, but it’s also just her mentality. She’s able to compensate at times for her size by not swinging as hard as she can, but instead mixing some things up by hitting some soft shots and hitting around the block.
“Her knowledge of the game, mixed with her work ethic and confidence, is what allows her to be so good at the size she is. I don’t think most people would be looking around the gym for a 5-3 kid who would be one of their kill leaders. But that says a lot about who she is.”
Stinson, whose mother Tiffany was a top player in high school for Yorktown and went on to play at Ball State from 1992-95, is second for the Tigers in kills this year with 296. She trails leader Jaylynn Dunsmore by 14 kills.
Stinson logged a season-high 23 kills last week in an emotional 3-2 victory over Providence in semistate action. She also surpassed 1,000 career digs earlier this season.
Bloom told her team at the beginning of the year that despite Stinson’s all-around ability, she wasn’t going to be a go-to hitter all year long. Taking that as a challenge, Stinson made 17 kills in the first two matches.
Bloom texted Stinson and said she was amused at how Stinson seemed to be saying, “I’ll show you that you’re going to need me to be a go to.” Stinson responded by texting, “Just trying to keep you on your toes, coach.”
“That’s what I love about her,” Bloom said. “She has that underdog mentality of … it doesn’t hurt her feelings. She’s going to prove that she’s going to become a go-to player. It describes her to a T.”
So does calling Stinson a dedicated leader on the team. That didn’t come easy for her. As a freshman and sophomore, she used her extreme work ethic to try to set an example for others.
Now she’s become quite vocal and a fiery leader.
“That’s something I had to grow into,” Stinson said. “I always probably led with my work ethic. That’s what kept me on the floor.”
She said she tried to model herself after older team leaders Kylie Murr and Kenzie Knuckles, two senior leaders who sparked Yorktown’s unbeaten state title team in 2018. Stinson said they taught her how to play scrappy volleyball, and that no ball was too far away to chase down.
Bloom remembers one ball during a practice that was hit 30 feet out of play. Stinson amazed everyone in the gym by tracking it down and getting a hand on it before it hit the floor. It made no logical sense, but it didn’t surprise anybody either.
“I remember some upperclassmen saying, ‘I can’t believe she just touched that,’ ” Bloom said. “Nobody else in the gym would have had a chance to touch it, but she would run through a brick wall to keep a ball alive. She showed up as a freshman and did that. She does that as a senior. Because of that, you can’t help but play hard when you’re around her because she raises everybody’s level of play. That’s just who she is.”
So it shouldn’t be surprising that Stinson developed into a vocal leader throughout her career.
When coronavirus shut down most activities last spring, it eliminated organized summer sports workouts.
Stinson gathered fellow seniors Dunsmore, Abby Johnson and Jenny Morey and they devised a plan to hold workouts on their own in Morrow’s Meadow. They met at 8:30 a.m. several days a week, even setting up a volleyball net and taking it down every day. The weather was hot and the two-hour workouts intense, but everybody bought in.
As the season grew closer, Yorktown’s volleyball program was shut down for two weeks the day before its first match because several players had COVID-19 issues.
Stinson and her senior teammates set up a “12 days of quarantine” modeled after the 12 days of Christmas. Each senior delivered a token gift (a snack or a Gatorade) to teammates on their “delivery route.” The seniors would text or call the players for whom they were responsible to see how they were doing.
“It was pretty hard on everybody, but I’m just proud of how everybody stepped up to the plate and made it work,” Stinson said. “Looking at where we are now, it was probably all worth it.”
Bloom had concerns when the team came out of quarantine and had just four practices before its first match of the season, against highly ranked Wapahani, which will play for the Class 2A state championship on Saturday.
“I remember our first day back, I came home and said, ‘Oh my gosh that was like the first day of preseason again,’ ” Bloom said. “I was in a terrible mood.”
But the Tigers swept Wapahani 3-0, and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
“That’s when I was like, ‘These kids are not going to take a day for granted,’ ” Bloom said. “They came to play that night, and it gave them a lot of confidence. From there, we were able to get in a groove.”
A lot of the Tigers’ success circles back to the leadership shown by Stinson and her ability to get everybody on board with her enthusiasm.
Bloom will admit that Stinson struggled at times in the growth process as to how much she should push players to become better and have them respond without feeling they had been demeaned. But Stinson’s maturity and conversations with Bloom about ways to lead pushed the process forward. Now Stinson has found that delicate balance.
“It’s taken time because she’s intimidating,” Bloom said. “She wants to win and if you’re not coming alongside her, she’s going to push you to get there. She really wants everyone around her to experience that, too.
“You’re not 27-0 with four kids on the floor who are turned off by that leadership. Our success speaks to our kids having bought in and thriving in her leadership and our senior leadership.”
The Tigers (27-0), ranked No. 1 in the final regular season IHSVCA/IndianaPrepVolleyball.com Z-Ratings, will take on No. 3 Munster (33-2) for the Class 4A state championship at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Worthen Arena in Muncie.