ANCHORAGE, Alaska (BVM) — Playing volleyball for most of her life, Hanna Henrie has been striving for national recognition. She finally received that recognition earlier this year when she became Gatorade Alaska Volleyball Player of the Year.
“For me, it was this huge sense of accomplishment,” Henrie said. “My freshman year, I had two individual goals [along with team goals]. To be the best hitter in the state and to be Gatorade Player of the Year. And for me, as a senior, to have that accomplished has made my younger self proud. Going through four years of high school, even through the highs and lows, I had that goal in mind.”
The 5-foot-11 senior helped the Wolverines to a 46-15 overall record and a Class 4A state title. In her final season, she racked up 697 kills with a kill percentage of .414. Henrie also had 429 digs, 73 service aces and 59 blocks. Henrie was also recognized as an American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) 2021 All-American honorable mention.
Henrie finished with eight kills in her final set, which helped finish off Dimond High School to capture the Class 4A state title.
“Hanna is a fantastic athlete,” South Anchorage High School head volleyball coach Amy Mestas said. “Part of what makes her that fantastic athlete is how hard she works. She’s a really good teammate and has worked hard over the years to become [an exceptional] leader.”
That determination and love for volleyball was instilled in Henrie from a young age.
“I started playing volleyball in the front lawn with my dad,” Henrie said. “I can’t even remember when we started doing that. During the summer, we would just pass the ball, and he taught me how to play a little bit. Then I joined my first Boys & Girls Club team in fifth grade. That was my first experience playing on a structured volleyball team where you had more than one person hitting the ball.”
In addition to her family developing her love for volleyball, Henrie had more help developing her passion for the sport that she’s yearned to play every day.
“One of my older friends [Amber] was in my church,” Henrie said. “She was in high school when I was in the Boys & Girls Club, so I went and watched her a couple of times. I watched her in the South Anchorage High School games [and] I was like, ‘I want to be like her.’
Watching her, I learned to love the environment of volleyball, and South has a great volleyball program, so watching them growing up, it made me even more excited to be a part of it.”
As time passed, Henrie’s love for volleyball, alongside her desire to be a better athlete, evolved into something greater than Henrie or Mestas could’ve imagined.
“It’s hard to get the combination with an athlete where they are naturally talented, selfless and willing to work hard,” Mestas said. She’s the kind of kid that will work hard away from the team and be one of the hardest workers when she was with the team.”
This is the second time Mestas has coached a Gatorade POY. But this time around, everyone could see the writing on the wall.
“This is the first year everybody knew Hanna was going to win it because there was just nobody else that was going to come close,” Mestas said. “Had she not won, [there] would’ve been a big uproar in the volleyball community. It was hers to lose, and there was no way she was going to lose it.”
Alongside the coveted national award, Henrie has helped South capture two state titles. With COVID-19 canceling the 2020-21 state tournament, South has technically won back-to-back state titles (2019-20 and 2021-22). And for the last 16 years, it’s been a battle between two schools.
“Our school has a tradition of being very good,” Mestas said. “It’s us [South] and another school in the region: Diamond High School. Between the two schools, we’ve won every state championship for the last 16 years. There’s a little extra pressure there…We’re supposed to be [at] the top.”
The squad wasn’t expected to be in the state tournament, let alone win the title this year. So, for the South Anchorage Wolverines to come out on top this year, it was sweeter than the last championship season.
“Great leadership from athletes like Hanna and hard work and [the team] staying together and believing in that mission is what got the job done,” Mestas said.
It was an exceptional achievement for the team to stay together. The Wolverines lost in regions and lost in the second game of the state tournament. The tournament is double-elimination, so South Anchorage was always one game away from being knocked out.
“We didn’t come as the underdogs because we’ve always been one of the top teams,” Henrie said. “But [it felt like] we were in that situation because we lost in regions. [Then] we had to work our way back up through the loser bracket to make it to the championship match…Nobody expected us to come out and beat them [Dimond], especially twice.
As a team, it proved that hard work pays off. I’ve been on both sides of it. In my sophomore year, we went through the whole state tournament without losing a match. It shows the value of hard work and how much greater the accomplishment feels when you’ve worked [hard] for it.”
That hard work has continued to pay off for Henrie. Not only on the court but in the classroom too where she maintains a 4.17 GPA. She is still undecided about where to attend college but is keeping her options open.
“It’s been a rollercoaster of confusion,” Henrie said with a chuckle. “Right now, I’m looking into going into sports medicine; just because so much of my life has revolved around athletics, I want to work with athletes in the future. As far as [playing] volleyball in college goes, I’m not 100% sure about that. I think it’s going to come down to whether or not I can play at a school I want to go to academically.”
Whether or not she plays volleyball at the collegiate level, success is sure to follow Henrie wherever she goes. She has displayed hard work throughout her prep career, and it’s not going to stop as she moves closer to college.
“Volleyball has been a huge part of my life,” Henrie said. “But the most valuable thing I’ve taken away from volleyball is how to be a good teammate, and how to work with others and [how to] learn from each other. It took me a while to recognize I could be a leader on the court, and I can inspire other people and help other people. Volleyball has taught me how to work with different types of people and how to be a hard worker and a good person.
“It teaches you so many lessons that can be applied to your regular life. It’s taught me the value of setting goals too…It’s so important to set goals in your life and to stick with [those goals]. Learning those things through volleyball, from coaches, for working with my team, it’s helped me learn so much more than what I would’ve if I never played.”