By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — Emily Vaughn spent much of Charlotte High School’s run to the regional finals last year watching from the bench.
She was a sophomore in her first year playing at the varsity level and content with her role, knowing she needed to learn from the team’s upperclassmen.
Now, as a junior, Vaughn is not only a top-contributing starter, but is the Tarpons’ 2016 leader in kills, and is a big part of why they will begin their regional run at 7 p.m. today at home against Clearwater.
“I didn’t know that. That’s exciting to hear that,” Vaughn said when she learned her 216 kills were a season-high for Charlotte (23-3). “I think it pays off for all the work and time I’ve put in the sport. I’m happy I had the opportunity last year to watch the other girls. Mykelli Taylor was a big influence and someone I would watch. Now, I get to be that person this year.”
Vaughn has put on a killing clinic for her younger teammates this year. Her .335 hitting percentage has led to 2.9 kills per set.
Playing from the right side, Vaughn was reluctant to make the move after being a middle hitter for most of her volleyball career.
“We moved her to the right side, and it took a lot of convincing,” Charlotte coach Michelle Dill said. “She blossomed into a great hitter. She’s realized she doesn’t have to hit the ball hard every time, and that she can mix up her shots and it’d be OK.”
Dill asked Vaughn to make the move over the summer, and once the decision was made, it was a smooth transition. It also helps to be a left-hander hitting from the right side, which is something that’s fairly uncommon for most teams.
“I think (the advantage) is more of the angles you can hit,” Vaughn said. “A lot of people don’t expect being left-handed. I’ll hear on the court ‘oh number six is a lefty.’ It’s an advantage because mainly you’ll set up your block for a right-handed hitter. It brings diversity to the court.”
Having Vaughn on one side and Shelby Beisner on the other helps the Tarpons have a dominant outsider hitter in more than one rotation. The move from middle to the right side also has helped Vaughn improve her game.
“It was hard for her to be in the middle as a lefty, and it’s (difficult) for most lefties,” Dill said. “Being left-handed, you should only be on the right side of the court. It’s really good because we can run the sets pin to pin and spread out our offense. Shelby and Emily are only in one rotation together, this way we have two strong hitters in two different rotations.”
Whether it’s in pregame warmups or during a match, there are few players who get more excited for a pinpoint accurate kill than Vaughn. But even when she’s jumping for joy, according to Dill, she’s also one of the most menacing players she’s ever coached.
During practices, Dill and her staff will be on one side of the net, while Vaughn is on the other.
“Just seeing her hit, and the power she has, it gives me goosebumps thinking about it right now,” Dill said. “When we’re practicing, as coaches, we get scared. She’s very intimidating.”
Vaughn looks back on her time as a reserve, and knows it was a great learning experience for her. It helped her become more determined, and prepared her for the stellar 2016 season she’s having.