Clearview senior middle hitter Heather Younkin is one of those players that thrives in pressure situations.
With the game on the line there’s pretty much no one else Clippers coach Dave Dorinski would want at the net, fighting for a critical point.
It’s not surprising. With what Younkin has dealt with off the court the last few years, there’s not much the sport can do to rattle her.
In 2009, when Younkin was just finishing middle school, her mother, Ann, suffered a heart attack. For 22 days she was in a coma, leaving Younkin and her father, Jesse, to face a very uncertain future.
While at home, Younkin and her father leaned on each other. On the court, Younkin found her release.
With a combination of size, speed and athleticism rarely exhibited in a player her age, she quckly made her presence felt in the Clippers program.
“As a freshman, we knew she was going to be something special,” Clearview coach Dave Dorinski said. “She really took to the game naturally. Our coaching staff wasn’t very strong when she came up in seventh and eighth grade, but it was apparent she knew exactly what she was doing, and when she got to high school she was on the varsity team within a week.
“Here was a freshman with a 29-inch vertical leap that was hitting right- and left-handed, so we knew we had something special.”
During her freshman year, Younkin joined sophomores Kelsey Fortney and Shayna Hunt and senior Jasmine Comstock to lead the Clippers to a 17-8 record and the school’s first sectional championship, but there were more dark days ahead.
During her sophomore year the family suffered another setback. In May, when most students are thinking about final exams and summer break, Jesse Younkin … the steady influence that helped Younkin get through her mother’s health problems … suffered a stroke.
Younkin’s world was turned upside down yet again.
“They are everything to me,” Younkin, who was adopted when she was 6 months old, said of her parents. “My dad is my biggest fan and my best friend. … I owe them everything.”
In hard times, a deeper bond was formed.
“I eventually got stronger,” Ann said. “Then he had the stroke. She’s just a great person and a great daughter and we’ve gone through a lot together. She helped me deal with things as much as I helped her. … Jesse would tell you the same thing. We’re so fortunate.”
Younkin also turned to her Clearview family, and the sport she loves, to get through the personal heartache she was suffering and deal with the uncertain future.
“They really were important,” she said of her classmates and team. “When I came in down they would lift me up. They showed me how big my family actually is.
“Clearview is like a family. It’s not a very big school and everyone knows everyone else. We have a very tight student body and there is always a lot of support from the other students, other athletes and the community. We have great coaches, great teachers and a lot of pride. I love it.”
It helped to have volleyball, too, which became her refuge.
“I could shut everything else out and focus on the game,” Younkin said. “Everything just went away for a little while, which helped. It was strange because at times it felt like I was in a movie out there, that I was an actor in a movie and could just immerse myself in my role with the team. That was a big comfort.”
Jesse Younkin still shows signs of his stroke. He has problems speaking at times and doesn’t walk like he used to. Still, come to a Clearview match and you can count on seeing him, with Ann at his side, watching his daughter and her teammates.
“Her mom and dad have played an important role for her and have been great for Clearview volleyball,” Dorinski said. “They’re at every event and it’s always great to see them there.”
Younkin has made an oral commitment to continue her volleyball career at Division I Kent State next season. She is expected to sign her official letter of intent this fall. Even though she was on the radar of other schools and coaches in the Midwest, Younkin decided on coach Don Gromala’s Golden Flashes early for a couple of reasons.
While she loves the program, educational opportunities and coaching Kent will provide, its proximity to home was the dealmaker.
“I thought about going out of state, but it was important for me to stay near my home and my family,” Younkin said. “They’ve been with me through it all and it’s going to be great to have them close when I play in college.”
Younkin will leave Clearview with her name scrawled all over the school’s record book. Heading into this season she was third on the career kills list with 540. She already owned the career marks for block-kills (235), blocks in play (301) and total blocks (485).
She also had the school record for kills in a match with 26 (set last year against Keystone), kills in a season (271 in 2012), block-kills in a season (111 last year) while also holding the two highest seasons in school history in total blocks (280 in 2011 and 155 in ’10).
Dorinski marvels at the player Younkin has become.
“When she started it was raw talent, but she really has become a student of the game,” he said. “She’s worked hard in the last year or so to focus on some of the different parts of her game … her defense, her passing and her blocking. She touches almost 20 balls a game blocking, which is an art form in itself. She’s one of the best in Ohio.
“Of course when she was young, like everyone else, she had to mature. Now she’s among the best leaders I’ve ever had as far as working with the younger girls, helping them out and understanding that they’re going to make the difference in this team’s success this year.”
As proud as Dorinski is of Younkin’s accomplishments on the court and in the classroom, Ann Younkin is even more thrilled with how her daughter has grown as a person.
“She’s a good Christian girl that goes to church three times a week,” Ann said. “She has good morals and has always made good decisions. … Even when she was little she made good choices. She has always been a great support for us. We really won the lottery with her.”