Harpenau At Home As A Bearcat And A Leader
Senior outside hitter and team captain Missy Harpenau

Aug. 31, 2011

By Shawn Sell

Missy Harpenau feels right at home. As a four-year starting outside hitter for her hometown team, Harpenau has always felt comfortable as a Bearcat, even with a new and expanded role as a senior.

As a high school student-athlete at Cincinnati's Mother of Mercy High, Harpenau was a bona fide star. After earning second team All-Ohio honors as a junior, Harpenau flourished as a senior, earning a spot on Volleyball Magazine's Fab 50 list and leading her team to a state championship. As if that wasn't enough, prepvolleyball.com named her the National (yes, National) Player of the Year. Along the way, she also made a name for her self on the club scene, playing for a familiar face--UC head coach Reed Sunahara. Even with that relationship built early on, Sunahara wasn't 100 percent convinced his program would land Harpenau's services.

"I am glad she decided to come here and hopefully we get more (local) kids like her to come because they know this is a good program," UC's 12th year head coach says. "With Harp, she came to camp and it's hard to read kids because if they are quiet, you don't know if they like it or not. With her, we heard that she liked it (here) and wanted to play close to home. But you never know until they say yes and when she did, it was a huge relief."

While Sunahara awaited Harpenau's decision, deep down she also felt that being a Bearcat was for her and leaving her hometown was never really on her radar.

"No not at all," Harpenau says. "I always knew I wanted to stay close to home and I had Reed as my club coach in high school so it was really just a perfect fit. I kind of knew for awhile; I did visit some other schools, but in the back of my mind I knew this was probably where I was going to end up and I am glad I did."

Once on UC's campus, as expected, Harpenau flourished as an outstanding all-around player, winning three BIG EAST Freshman of the Week Awards in 2008. Paired with All-American Stephanie Niemer on the outside, Harpenau was even better as a sophomore, picking up second team All-BIG EAST honors, thanks in large part to her serving and defense. But last year provided an unexpected road block as a shoulder injury hampered Harpenau's junior season, forcing her to miss several early season contests and limiting her to just back row play for much of the year following her return. Admittedly, not getting to play all facets of the game was an adjustment for Harpenau.



"It was definitely a change; I've never not played front row before so it was something I had to get used to," she says. "It was a big step from being out completely to having a chance to go in a little bit and that was something that I wanted. Even if it was only back row, I wanted to be out there on the court, supporting my team and doing anything I could. So just getting that chance, even if it was only back row, was a big plus."

With her senior season still to look forward to, Harpenau underwent surgery on her shoulder following the conclusion of the year, with hopes of being back to 100% by this fall. Sunahara admits that he was a little nervous early on for his most experienced outside hitter, but has since seen glimpses of the player he knows.

"When I saw her in the spring I thought this could be a long year for her, but after the preseason, I was pretty optimistic," he says. "Then, she had a pretty good first weekend for us. It was just a lot of games this weekend and that was hard for her. We played back-to-back-to-back and (although) we had a one-match break between, she got a lot of swings and I thought her shoulder did well."

In the first three years of her career, Harpenau was not relied on to be a vocal leader with veteran players like Annie Fesl and Niemer providing the leadership. Now as the only senior on the 2011 roster, Harpenau is being thrust into a leadership role and it's a role that she is more than willing to embrace.

"I have definitely had to be more vocal this year which isn't hard for me because I am comfortable with all the players that I play around," she says. "I think I have to become more vocal and I think it has helped."

While she is the lone four-year player, she is far from the only experienced player thanks to a strong junior class. Harpenau is joined as team captain this year by juniors Emily Hayden, Becca Refenes and Jordanne Scott, but she still recognizes the importance of senior leadership.

"Being the only senior, I feel like it's my job and my role to be that leader and someone the younger players can look up to and be an example for," she says. "I hope when I do graduate, they know what its like to be a leader."

One of those young players Harpenau refers to is freshman setter Caylin Mahoney. With big shoes to fill with the graduation of Fesl, Mahoney has had to hit the ground running to generate the necessary chemistry with her hitters and to this point, Harpenau has been impressed with what she has seen.

"It's been really good," she says of the transition. "I think she has come in with that confidence knowing that she was going to start for us. During the off-season, we did a lot of open gyms basically to get her used to setting our outsides and middles so when the season came around, it wouldn't be that much of a transition for her. She has done a really good job working with our hitters and we have talked to her a lot and know what she can do and it has been really good."

With her senior season now in full swing, Harpenau has the chance to enter some rather unchartered territory by the end of this season. If she stays on pace, Harpenau could become just the sixth UC player ever with 1,000 career kills and 1,000 career digs, having entered this season with 827 and 1,007, respectively. But she has her eye on a bigger prize, a third BIG EAST Championship.

"I definitely want to win another BIG EAST Championship so I have three rings; I think that would be a great accomplishment," she says. "Also, making it to the Sweet 16 is definitely a team goal for us."

Sunahara for one is all in favor of more hardware for his senior and is thankful for the years he has gotten coaching her thus far.

"Missy has been a great addition to our program," he says. "She has a chance to be the first player here to win three BIG EAST Championships. I think that is a promising thing for her. She is just a very good volleyball player. She is kind of quiet, but I think she has come out of her shell a little bit this year with maturity. I am glad she is here and happy I get to coach her."