Freshman Bulow exceeding expectations for Eagles
Fort Bend Christian Academy volleyball coach Alex Edwards had an idea of what she'd be getting before freshman Layne Bulow ever slipped on a green and gold uniform.
Edwards had watched Bulow play club ball for Houston Skyline in middle school.
"I knew she'd come in and have an immediate impact," Edwards said. "I knew she'd come in strong, especially as a passer, and taking on a six-rotation role."
But Bulow has surpassed Edwards' expectations. On a 19-3 Eagles team with legitimate TAPPS state championship aspirations, Bulow is second on the team in kills (2.3 per set) and digs (2.3 per set), and first in aces (42). She is also one of the team's best in serve receiving.
Bulow is the team's first outside hitter that goes to the back row during games, and Edwards has been beyond pleased with her defense and passing, feeding talented attackers Bailey Hanner and Bayleigh Minor, and middles Sophia Vrienlink and Oyinkansola Ajimotokan.
"I knew she was good, but she is my reliable back row player," Edwards said. "She's passing well. She's also a great server. Her consistency in the back row … it's so nice to have her back there. In the front row, she's stepping up, learning more. It's hard to swing on the varsity level. As she gets more opportunities, she's getting better."
Bulow said she was nervous before her first varsity game. But the confidence and trust of Edwards and teammates, especially senior leaders Hanner and Avery Hodge, eased the transition from eighth grade star to varsity standout.
"The players have given me a lot of confidence," Bulow said. "They have faith in me and trust me on the court. As I went on, I became more confident in my abilities and what I can bring to the court."
One of Bulow's specialties is serving. She leads the team in serve attempts with 272 and has a serve percentage of 90.1. The Eagles have scored 147 points when Bulow serves, by far the highest on the team.
"You just need to know or focus on what would not make a team pick up a ball," said Bulow, who said she's gotten better at serving simply by playing and learning more about the game. "It depends on the team, but you can tell which teams are better at passing deep balls or short balls. You serve short or deep depending on what that team can't handle. You can tell if you pay attention."
Edwards said it is not typical for a freshman to make varsity, let alone contribute at a high level. They often need that year of junior varsity to develop and get used to the speed of the game.
But the second-year coach had an opening, and Bulow seized the opportunity.
"For her, it's the confidence in herself," Edwards said. "She's her biggest critic. As the season's gone on, you can start to see her eyes open up a little bit more and her realizing she can do it. Her background growing up, she's played every position. She's never just stuck to one. So, I think what's nice for her is she knows her role, what it will be, and just keep grinding and pushing and things will keep opening up for her."
Bulow is taking it all in stride. She continues to work on hitting, specifically shot selection. She also is not content with her blocking and has pinpointed that as an area of improvement.
She is hungry to get better and stay consistent for the Eagles, winners of 17 of their last 18 games.
"I think we've played very well," Bulow said. "Going forward, we just need to keep playing as a team. When we play together, we can beat anyone. We just need to focus on ourselves and what we need to do."