LAKEWOOD RANCH — Haley Preininger used to thrive in the spotlight.
The Out-of-Door Academy senior craved the gratification and glory that came with being a hitter. Preininger felt a sense of pride and accomplishment in watching her stats and accolades pile up, knowing she was an integral part of the Lady Thunder’s offensive production.
It wasn’t until one of her former JV coaches moved her from a hitter to a setter in middle school that Preininger learned that contribution is more than just the number of tallies next to your name on the stat sheet.
The adjustment was difficult for Preininger at first, but over the last four years she’s learned to value the position.
“At first I wasn’t too thrilled,” Preininger says. “Hitters get all of the glory for the hits. But when I realized how much setters contribute on every point, I grew to love the position.
“When I was younger, I kind of wanted the gratification,” Preininger says. “Now my team knows I’m contributing and I know I’m contributing. That’s all that really matters. You can’t play as an individual. The position teaches you how to play (as a team). I can’t do that much as an individual.”
Preininger began playing volleyball in sixth grade. She played intramural volleyball before deciding to join the Suncoast Volleyball Club.
Preininger played for Suncoast until her freshman year but she decided to take a break from club volleyball her freshman and sophomore years. She continued to play for ODA, during that time and returned to Suncoast Volleyball Club last season.
“I decided to do it for fun, and I ended up loving it,” Preininger says. “I love the spirit of volleyball. It’s so much fun and (requires) a lot of teamwork. I loved working with the girls on my team.”
Preininger joined ODA’s volleyball team in seventh grade. She played JV for three years before moving up to varsity her sophomore year. This season, Preininger is both a team and floor captain for the Lady Thunder and has helped ODA maintain a competitive spirit every time the team steps out onto the court.
“Haley has demonstrated incredible leadership both on and off the court as a setter, a senior and as a captain,” coach Craig Wolfe says. “Haley has not only adopted the competitive attitude that I have been stressing since day one, but she has also been instrumental in encouraging her teammates to do the same. … We appreciate all that Haley brings to the team that can’t be tallied on the stat sheet.”
During her first season at ODA, Preininger watched the Lady Thunder capture its second district title. Now five years later, Preininger and the rest of the senior class are seeking to add another district title to the championship banner that proudly hangs in the Petrik Thunderdome.
“In 2007, we had a really great team,” Preininger says. “When I was in seventh grade, I looked up to that team and we want to get back to that state. It’s been really great to see the program evolve, and I love being a part of it.
“It would mean so much to me and the seniors,” Preininger says of winning a district title. “Our whole high school career, this is really what we’ve been working toward. We’ve talked about it before, but it hasn’t really ever been in reach. This year we have confidence and it feels (good) knowing we’ve come that far and all of our hard work is (paying off).”
Preininger and the Lady Thunder moved one step closer to their goal of capturing their first district title since 2007 by beating Cardinal Mooney Oct. 4 for the first time in Preininger’s career at ODA.
The Lady Thunder outlasted the Lady Cougars 25-15, 15-25, 23-25, 25-21, 16-14 in the Think Pink Match. In addition to the win, ODA and Cardinal Mooney raised more than $3,000 for breast cancer. The teams dedicated the match to Lori Frank, the mother of ODA student Ashtin Frank, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
Preininger, who finished with 26 assists, 22 digs and five blocks, remembers blocking the last point and rushing back to meet her teammates in celebration.
“It was such an emotional win. (Whenever we’ve played them) it’s never really been close. The first time we played them we won one game, but lost the match. This was just an amazing win,” Preininger says.
The win was a defining moment for ODA’s team and floor captain and the rest of her teammates who have learned how to be competitive every time they step out onto the court.
“You’re only as strong as your weakest player,” Preininger says. “We’ve been focused on making sure everyone is mentally strong. We’ve learned how to be mentally tough and how to play with intensity. You can have the best technique; but if you don’t have mental toughness, you can only go so far.”