Stephanie Aiple was born with the bloodlines to become one of the best volleyball players in Texas.
Her mother, Connie, played at Long Beach State as an outside hitter. Her father, Matt, was a middle blocker on the club team at Bowling Green University before competing on a professional circuit in California.
And her aunt Diane Watson was a two-time All-America outside hitter at the University of Texas who recently was inducted into the school’s Hall of Honor.
Oh, that’s right, Watson just happens to be Aiple’s coach at Round Rock High School.
Given her family’s volleyball roots, it came as little surprise that Aiple became addicted to the sport at age 9.
“It was really difficult at first because I wasn’t that good,” Aiple said, recalling her first year with the Austin Juniors club team. “But I kept believing in myself, pushing myself, and I loved the camaraderie. I had my sister (Lauren) on the team, and I knew I’d need to work hard to make it.”
Now a senior, Aiple has another honor for her portfolio. She has been selected the Central Texas player of the year by the American-Statesman’s high school sports staff.
In November, Aiple was named to the 2013-14 Under Armour All-America first-team. On Dec. 20, she and other selected players will compete in a match and skills competition in Seattle, just in advance of the NCAA Division I championship match at Key Arena.
“Stephanie was jump-serving in the seventh grade,” Watson said. “You couldn’t stop her. We knew pretty early that she was going to be a great volleyball player. When word got out she wanted to be a cheerleader, her dad said that’s not happening.”
At 6 feet 1 inch, Aiple is taller than 14 of her 15 Round Rock teammates. Yet she is a setter, a position usually reserved for girls a half of a foot shorter than she is.
The Texas A&M signee is part of a growing trend that calls for setters to be as tall as front-line players. Tall setters have the potential to be a more active threat on offense and to block better, Watson said.
Two recent examples of successful tall setters are Lucas Lovejoy graduate Andie Malloy (now at Iowa State) and Lake Travis graduate Katy Beals (Washington). The 6-2 Malloy was a four-time Class 3A state champion at Lovejoy and twice was named a state tournament MVP. The 6-1 Beals was the catalyst for the 2011 Cavaliers team that won the Class 4A state title while going 50-0.
Aiple’s emergence as a setter began when her Austin Juniors coach, Kathy Lietzke, urged her to play the position. At 13, she proved to be a natural fit.
“That’s when I fell in love with the game again,” Aiple said.
Connie Aiple said her daughter thrived as a setter because she “has a high IQ for volleyball and setter is the quarterback” for the team.
“You have a million outside hitters and a million middle blockers, but a tall setter can be really valuable,” Connie added.
Aiple said she has been fortunate to be part of a volleyball family. She tagged along with sister Lauren, three years her senior, to club tournaments throughout the state.
“From doing film (for recruiting) to helping me with the college résumé, my parents have always been supportive,” said Aiple, who will begin attending classes at Texas A&M in January.
Aiple also said playing for her Aunt Diane the past four years has been a benefit.
“Coach Watson wants her athletes to be the best they can be,” she said. “She pushes us and inspires us to follow a good path.”