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November 5, 2009

A Winning Record - Outside hitter Justine Record is thriving in her sophomore year

By: Matt Kovatch

Justine Record has been the Hokies' go-to option on the attack in her sophomore year.

At 5-foot-8, she’s just an inch or two taller than most defensive specialists, and just an inch or two shorter than most setters. One might say she looks like an average volleyball player.

But she’s not. Despite her unassuming stature, sophomore Justine Record stars as Virginia Tech’s outside hitter, a position normally reserved for players much larger in size. And that’s exactly why the Hokies were lucky enough to snag her two years ago out of Redwood City, Calif.

Record may be much smaller than her foes on the other side of the net, but her 28-inch vertical leap, as well as the fact that she’s a left-hander playing where a right-hander typically would, makes her effective enough that the Hokies call her number time and time again when on the offensive attack.

While each of those things has helped Record to succeed in Blacksburg (at press time, she ranked first on the team in kills, second in digs, and second in the ACC in service aces), they also are exactly what caused other universities that were recruiting her to shy away.

“I do think some schools were afraid to take me because I’m short, left-handed, and I play on the outside,” Record said. “So I’m very thankful for the coaches for keeping me on the outside instead of playing me on the weak side where I am not comfortable at all.”

But for Tech head coach Chris Riley and his staff, those things were never an issue.

“We don’t look at how tall someone is,” Riley said. “But how high do they play? We’ve seen a bunch of 6-foot-2 players who only jump 10 inches. But to have someone who is 5-8 and who jumps 28 inches? She’s still playing well above the net, and that’s what we look for.”

While it seems like a “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” situation, Riley knew it was no guarantee that Record would decide to move across the nation to go to college. After all, California is volleyball country (fellow Hokies Felicia Willoughby and Morgan O’Neill also hail from the northern California area) and there were plenty of schools after Record.

“Justine played for one of the best club teams in California,” Riley said. “When we first talked to the club coaches about her, they told us she wanted to stay in California. We still recruited her, but we didn’t really have our hopes up.”

But once Virginia Tech got on Record’s radar, it didn’t take long for her to change her mind.

“I met with Chris and [assistant coach] Shelby [McBride] and I loved the campus and I loved the strength and conditioning staff,” Record remembered.

Record also wanted to attend a big university, and soon thereafter, she was wearing orange and maroon and playing a major role for the Hokies as a true freshman, seeing action in 30 of the 31 matches and finishing third on the team in kills.

“I knew I had to work for a spot, but I didn’t realize I would play so much so early,” Record said. “That has really helped me a lot this year because I’ve already played in so many situations so often.”

Riley knew all along that Record was going to be one of the team’s main offensive weapons, and right away.

“There was no question that she was athletic enough to play here,” Riley said. “And playing in northern California at that level, she’d played with some of the best kids in the country. I mean, her club team finished third in the nation with five Pac-10 players on the team.

“She had played at a level that’s as high, if not higher than, where we play. So I didn’t hesitate for a minute to put her in because I know she’s been there. She has the ability and she’s seen it all before. It’s not something that was new to her.”

While all the early playing time has helped Record out a ton, she is quick to give credit to her setter, fellow sophomore Erin Leaser.

“I’m lucky to have her as my setter because she always puts the ball in the right spot so I can do what I want with it,” Record said of Leaser, who also started for much of her freshman season. “A lot of my success has to do with her and the fact that we’ve had an entire year to connect.”

As long as Leaser continues to give Record the ball in the right times and places, Riley thinks Record will only continue to improve.

“I think there’s no reason that she can’t continue to get better,” Riley said. “She’s going to get her kills, but she needs to eliminate the errors on bad plays. She’s probably a .300 hitter out of the front row, but she makes errors out of the back row because her timing is still not great.

“But when she’s on, you can just give her the ball because there’s nobody that I’ve seen in our conference who can really stop her. She can play the whole game. Whether it’s serve receiving, serving, hitting or passing, she’s our best all-around player. She can do everything.”