Player Profile: Hoeksma wins with skill and smiles on the court

Rarer still is the play in which Hoeksma does not have the ball in her hands. In her third year as the team’s setter, the junior standout “is one of the only players [who] plays every minute of every game,” according to senior co-captain Lauren Wong. She has become not only the team leader and top player on the Amherst squad, but has emerged as one of the NESCAC’s brightest stars.

“Annie is one of the most talented and versatile volleyball players we’ve ever had at Amherst College,” said Head Coach Sue Everden.

The Firedogs’ Rookie of the Year in 2001, Hoeksma had a breakthrough year as a sophomore, earning First-Team All-NESCAC honors and being named to the All-Tournament team at the 2002 Hall of Fame Invitational.

In her sophomore year, she led the team in assists in all 28 matches. She was the team’s season leader in assists with 952, and she distributed 40 or more assists in seven games, with a season high of 51. But there’s more. Hoeksma ended the season fifth in the NESCAC in assists per game (10.02), and seventh in hitting percentage (.322), and was named team co-MVP.

Hoeksma, who grew up in Los Angeles, actually started out as a basketball player. It wasn’t until her father urged her to try out for volleyball in middle school that she gave it a shot.

“I went to the first tryout in sixth grade,” Hoeksma recalls, “and I remember feeling, ‘I don’t want to play volleyball … I want to play basketball.'” Volleyball would have to wait. But she tried out next year, made the team, and the rest is history.

She flourished in her newfound sport, earning MVP honors on her ninth grade team. Hoeksma made varsity as a junior and earned a state championship and all-state tournament team honors as a senior. When she wasn’t playing for her high school team, she competed for a Los Angeles-area club team.

At first, she didn’t know where or if her volleyball career would continue after graduation. “I wasn’t actually sure if I wanted to play [in college],” she said. “But the more I talked to the coaches and especially Coach Everden, the NESCAC seemed like a really perfect mixture of academics and volleyball. I visited Amherst, liked the team, and it all just worked out.”

Though she was far from home, Hoeksma had a familiar face joining her at Amherst, in high school teammate Nikki Davidson ’05. Hoeskma was also reunited with then-senior and all-conference honoree Meredith Demeules ’02, who played on the same Los Angeles club team as Hoeksma.

Also a setter, Demeules became an important role model for Hoeksma. In fact, Everden installed a new formation with two setters to allow Hoeksma and Demeules to be on the court at the same time.

With a year’s experience behind her, Hoeksma enjoyed a stellar sophomore campaign as the team’s lone setter. She is the team’s quarterback and leader, as well as its official floor captain, all the while playing a position that doesn’t get too much publicity.

“Being a setter, you don’t really get the glory of hitting the ball,” she says. “It’s not like you finished the play and got the point. But I like it better. It’s kind of a behind-the-scenes position, so even if I’m not the one who scored the point, I definitely had a lot to do with it, and I know myself that I kind of made that point too.”

“Annie brings to the team a quiet leadership, in terms of leader by example,” says Everden. “She is out on the court every match, every game, every point and is really giving 110 percent, which I think speaks to her work ethic and also to her character.”

“She is one of our biggest assets, both on the court as our star setter and off the court as a friend and teammate,” says Davidson. “She is one of the most intense players on the court, although her quiet demeanor might be misleading.”

Hoeksma’s volleyball skills are also hard to match. “[Annie] is an incredibly talented player,” says Wong. “Like any good setter, she has good hands, can move the ball around and makes really smart decisions. What distinguishes Annie, though, is that she can play every element of the game.”

Hoeksma hopes to use her talents to lead her team to the NCAA tournament, and would also like to make the All-NESCAC team again. But there’s also a more pressing goal. “I’d like to beat Williams,” she says. “We haven’t beaten them at all since I’ve been here. I’d then like to make an appearance at NCAAs.”

So far, both the team and Hoeksma are off to a good start. The Firedogs have jumped out to an impressive 13-2 record, while their junior standout has continued to lead the way. She was honored for her efforts at the early-season WNEC tournament by being named tournament MVP.

Wins and honors aside, Hoeksma is enjoying her volleyball experience. “We’re really close,” she says of her team. “We spend a lot of time together outside of volleyball as well.”

There is life beyond volleyball for Hoeksma. An anthropology major, Hoeksma also volunteers in the ABC tutoring program once a week.

In a word, hopes for Hoeksma are high. “I think Annie now knows this is her team,” says Everden. “And we’re gonna go as far as Annie can take us.”

It’s a big task, and an even bigger responsibility and challenge. But if anyone’s up for it, it’s Hoeksma-and she’ll probably be smiling and giving high fives all along the way.