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Senior standout force in the middle for 17-2 Olympians

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Columbus East%u2019s Sara Bean moves in for a dig Sept. 18 during a match against Perry Meridian.
Columbus East%u2019s Sara Bean moves in for a dig Sept. 18 during a match against Perry Meridian. PHOTO BY ANDREW LAKER

Sara Bean isn’t blessed with incredible size for a middle hitter.

But what the 5-foot-9 Columbus East senior lacks in stature, she makes up for in speed and strength. She’s a big reason why the Olympian volleyball team is 17-2 and ranked No. 3 in Class 4A going into tonight’s battle at Columbus North.

“The name of my game is speed,” Bean said. “My job is to beat the blockers and just hit wherever and get around them. Our whole team is short, and we just have to find ways to find where the defense isn’t and hit around the block — hit around, hit through, hit over, anything.”

“She jumps high and quick,” East coach Faith Wilder-Newland said. “She has a quick arm, sees the court well, sees where the blockers are. For her size and everything, she’s had as good a career as I think anybody could ask of her.”

After playing right-side hitter as a freshman and sophomore, Bean moved to the middle this past season. She typically gives up a few inches in height against some bigger teams.

“She hit down the line really well from the right side and just used her hands well and had good overall skills,” Wilder-Newland said. “But especially as a junior and now as a senior, she probably hits the hardest and the smartest on the team.”

Bean leads the Olympians with 194 kills, a .450 percentage and 41 blocks. She also has 90 digs and 14 service aces.

“I think she’s having a great season,” Wilder-Newland said. “I’ve been very pleased with her work ethic, especially. For her size and everything, she’s gotten the most out of her talent as any player I’ve ever coached.”

As one of five seniors and one of two captains, Bean has emerged as a leader — even if it’s sometimes in an unusual way.

“She’s a bit crazy at times,” said her cousin, junior right-side hitter Erin Mack said. “When we get really excited during the games and it’s a big match, we’ll go in after a big kill and just scream in each other’s faces. It’s just kind of goofy. We look kind of funny, but it gets our team going. She motivates us, and she embodies everything that a leader really is.”

East won its first 16 matches of the season before falling to 3A No. 7 Muncie Central and 4A No. 4 Avon in Saturday’s Muncie Central Invitational. The Olympians bounced back Monday with a three-game win against Bloomington South.

“We’ve had a great season,” Bean said. “This weekend was a little bit of a disappointment, but I think that we still played well this weekend, and coming back from that (Monday) night I think was awesome to just come out and play really strong against Bloomington South.

“I think our team is better than we have been,” she said. “I think we’re a lot more rounded this year. We have a lot of depth.”

That will be key for East when it attempts to regain the sectional crown it lost to Shelbyville this past season.

“Of course, every team’s goal is to go to state, but we lost in sectional last year, so our goal right now is just to win sectional,” Bean said. “We’re not looking farther than that. We just want to win sectional and take it one step at a time.”

Bean is hoping to continue her volleyball career at the next level. She has received some interest from NAIA, Division II and small Division I schools.

“It’s going a little slow just because of her size,” Wilder-Newland said. “The colleges are more concerned about blocking, and they’re all kind of chasing after the same small group of tall kids, and once those kids start committing, then she’ll have more of an opportunity to get attention. She definitely deserves and should play in college with her ability.”

“I definitely want to play volleyball,” Bean said. “I feel like I’m not done yet. I think I’m still just starting.”

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