By Mike Deak
WARSAW – Warsaw has been blessed with some uniquely talented athletes in its volleyball program. Head coach Chandra Hepler is one of them, the former Missouri star not missing the mark when her own words included ‘she is one of the best to ever play here’.
That’s high praise for a player with just two years of experience in the Tiger Den.
Hepler made the decree in the fall of 2020 of her setter, Avery Hales, who has established herself as one of the top all-around volleyball players in the country.
Hales, who wrapped up her sophomore year for the 22-9 Tigers, isn’t just a statistical juggernaut. But, beginning with her stats, she’s one of the best in the business and barely old enough to drive a car. For a stretch in the middle of Warsaw’s season, Hales was ranked in the top five nationally in assists and assists per set. She finished her season ranked No. 102 nationally in total assists with 911, but tied for 33rd in assists per set at 10.8, which tends to be a truer gauge as teams vary greatly on the number of total games played in a season.
Her totals in the state had her 21st in total assists and third in assists per set.
There are great setters everywhere, but if you gameplan against Hales to just table set, you’ll get burned. Hales racked up 124 kills, 36 blocks and 30 aces last season, those totals respectively ranking her fifth, second and tied for second on the team. But considering her first notion is to set, Hales also was third on the team in digs with 163, which meant that Hales could potentially load up to score points rather than help them, creating a coaching nightmare trying to defend Warsaw’s attack.
The Lady Tigers went 7-0 in the Northern Lakes Conference to outright the title for the first time since 2014, Hales the engine that got the team moving. Of the 1,926 points Warsaw scored this past season in its 31 contests, Hales either scored or assisted on 1,101 of them, affecting over 57 percent of the team’s points.
In just two high school seasons, Hales has over 1,700 assists, but as impressive, over 300 digs and nearing 300 kills.
While it’s also not above Warsaw to have players being scouted for college, which included Elizabeth Schmidt and Kennedy Lauck from this past season, Hales is drawing national Division 1 attention. Just this past week, Hales visited Penn State on a recruiting trip, the Nittany Lions having been on her radar for at least a year. Coached by the legendary Russ Rose, Penn State finished the 2020 season ranked No. 12 in the country, a history that includes seven national championships and 41 straight NCAA tournament appearances.
Hales finished as a First Team All-NLC performer and All-District selection as well.
Adding to her charm is Hales the sand volleyball star, who with playing partner Katie McKibbin, won an EVP summer tour championship just days before the high school season began. Just tossing that in for good measure.