When Lynden Christian outside hitter Cassie Mulder first entered the LC volleyball program, coach Kim Grycel knew instantly Mulder would be an important player.
If it wasn't her 6-foot-1 frame, it was her hitting and blocking ability that drew Grycel's attention.
"My freshman year I was on JV, and nobody else played JV as a freshman," Mulder said. "My sophomore year I started."
Mulder seemed to encompass all the abilities a volleyball coach admires in a middle or an outside. There was just one ingredient missing.
Mulder needed to realize volleyball was one of her passions.
"We knew she was going to be an impact player," Grycel said. "There's no doubt about that. But until last year, she had to get that fire in your gut, that confidence. I would say that is her biggest improvement."
Following a 2011 season in which Mulder played volleyball's version of basketball's sixth man - LC's first player to come of the bench --- she decided to play club to help her measure her passion for the game.
"I played club to see if I really loved the game enough to play in college, and I definitely do," Mulder said. "It shows that God is helping me love the game so much that I have this role on this team. I can work hard and set a really good example."
Mulder said her ability to be patient and "wait for her time" was instilled in her by her parents. That attitude and her commitment to work hard and improve as a player has helped Mulder blossom into one of the stronger outside hitters in the Northwest Conference.
One of the main reasons Mulder didn't start last year was because of who was in front of her. First-team All-NWC hitters Jasmine Hommes and Brielle Van Zonneveld demanded most of the time in the front row, due to their talent and athleticism.
Still, Mulder found a vital roll on the team even though she would have liked to play more.
"Even though she didn't start, she was playing a lot," Grycel said. "One of the things that's good about Cassie is she's versatile. She could go in the middle. She could go in for Brielle or Jas. I mean she could go in and do anything. She was so valuable at being first sub off the bench. If we had her starting, we wouldn't have someone to put in those other positions."
It was right before the Class 1A Tri-District Tournament last year when Mulder took off.
Hommes suffered a shoulder injury, which forced Mulder into a starting role. She moved from her normal middle position and played on the outside. Mulder played so well, she earned her spot back in the starting rotation for the duration of the Lyncs' postseason.
Her play has carried over to this season.
"We graduated seven seniors last year. Five of those were starters," Grycel said. "Jas and Brielle started as freshmen, so we got used to depending on them. It was great (Mulder) came in, worked hard in the offseason and stepped up to fill that go-to spot."
She leads the Lyncs in kills, serve receive and aces, is a captain and has added a defensive dimension to her game with the ability to play in the back row. She's also helped propel Lynden Christian to a strong seed in the Class 1A District Tournament.
Not only has Mulder proved her versatility by becoming a reliable defender and passer, but her ability to move from the middle - a position she's played every year until her senior season - to the outside has shown Grycel she's willing to do anything for the betterment of the team.
"She doesn't want to let the team down, me down, the fans down," Grycel said. "She really cares about the team. She bought into it being about the team. Maybe she wanted to get her starting spot back earlier, but we needed her in that seventh man in volleyball role. She has the attitude of, 'if this is what coach thinks is best for the team, then I'm going to do what's best for the team.'"
Many of Mulder's developments have been from her own doing, but she admits she's learned a lot playing in the shadow of Hommes and Van Zonneveld.
"Jas really gave it her all and never got down on herself, and I definitely took that from her," Mulder said. She gave me the mentality of working hard no matter what - inside and outside of volleyball. I played club with Brielle last year, and I also learned how to be a strong leader from her."
Grycel said Mulder also made Hommes and Van Zonneveld better players.
"Every day in practice (Mulder) would be on the other side making them better," she said. "Not only does she get better, she makes them better, and I think (Mulder) saw what she aspires to be."
With Mulder's size and ability, she's certainly imitated the dominant duo's play.
Hommes is now playing basketball at Montana State University, and Van Zonneveld is playing volleyball at Seattle Pacific University. Mulder is hoping she can follow suit as Grycel's next college standout.
"I met with someone from Columbia Bible College after our Nooksack Valley game," Mulder said. I'm also looking at (Northwest Nazarene University), and it would be cool to play at Western, too. If I can't get into one of those, I would love to go to Whatcom then transfer once I've improved my skills even more."
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.