Lauren Clark didn’t grow up in a family with superstar athletes.
Her mother, Sara, and father, George, played sports recreationally when serving in the Air Force. Neither made headlines as a high school varsity athlete.
The younger Clark grew up excelling at every sport she tried and has emerged as one of the top high school volleyball players in Minnesota. A 6-1 junior outside middle hitter at Armstrong, Clark already has verbally committed to play at volleyball power Penn State.
“They were really real and didn’t try to sell me their program,” Clark said.
She said she liked the interactive approach the Nittany Lions’ coaches have and the program’s “championship mentality.”
Penn State has won seven NCAA titles, including six since 2007.
Armstrong won seven state titles during stretches of dominance in the 1980s and early 2000s. But that tradition hasn’t been as strong of late, with a 13-year state tournament drought. Clark and her teammates hope to change that.
“We have a lot of talent and, because we’ve been in a rebuilding season these last two years, we’ve had time to mesh as a team and get better,” Clark said.
Clark started as a freshman and had 236 kills in 2015, when the Falcons went 5-10-1 and fell in the second round of the Class 3A, Section 6 tournament. She improved as a sophomore in 2016 with 416 kills as the team won 25 games. The Falcons still exited the playoffs quickly though.
A key obstacle has been Hopkins, the section champion the past two years. The Royals look strong again with senior setter Tara Lee back but Clark is keeping her sights on improving personally and as a team.
“I’m just focusing on being a six-rotation player, working on my shot and just ways that I can really move the ball around and still be able to get points for my team,” Clark said.
Clark has a strong shot and can make a kill from near the back line with ease. She credits training, which includes her work with Paul Jones at Velocity Sports Performance in Champlin.
Outside the season, Clark competes in club volleyball with Crossfire in Champlin. She has competed with several members of Champlin Park’s 2016 Class 3A runner-up team such as junior hitter Izzy Ashburn.
Rebels coach John Yunker, whose team plays in the same conference as the Falcons, knows Clark poses a challenge. They meet Thursday in Northwest Suburban Conference play.
“She hits a heavy ball and teams have to be ready to try and slow her down,” Yunker said. “You can’t stop a player like her completely, but you have to try and slow her down as best you can because it will be a long night for your defenders if she gets open swings.”
Opponents have paid the price already in the Falcons’ 5-1 start through Sept. 6. Clark has had 56 kills, 45 digs and 15 service aces. She said Falcons coach Ayesha Khan’s decision to play her in the back row has helped her overall game.
Clark also credits teammates and setters Maddie Zenanko and Ryley Frye for complementing her on the court. Zenanko, a senior, has 36 assists in six matches and a team-leading 54 digs. Frye, a freshman, has emerged as an offensive force with a team-best 94 assists. She played right side hitter before.
“We’re working really hard with them this year to move the ball around,” Clark said.
Clark hopes it will make year three of building the Falcons program a charm, too.
“We can make it really far,” Clark said.