Some high school athletes simply want to punch the clock when it comes to practice. They get there just before the workouts start and fly out the door when their coach blows the whistle to call it a day.
Not Bella Armstrong. The Lugoff-Elgin senior volleyball player put in plenty of hours of overtime to do what it took off the volleyball court to make her a better player on it. You can expect that to continue at the next level.
Armstrong, a hitter for Katie Ham’s Lady Demons, signed a National Letter of Intent to continue her indoor and beach volleyball and academic endeavors at Spartanburg Methodist College in a ceremony held inside L-E’s Wellness Center.
Ham said the Pioneers are getting a well-rounded young lady who is no stranger to hard work.
“Bella is an awesome young lady who is very dedicated. She works after hours, a lot,” Ham said. “She is someone who you will find in the weight room trying to get stronger and harder by pushing herself. She also has a great personality. She’s sweet and she loves life.”
In SMC, Armstrong found a place which felt like home. It was not long before she made her college commitment for the next two years which, hopefully, will lead her to a four-year program after she receives her associates’ degree.
“I really like the environment there. I come from a smaller school so going to another smaller school will be a good fit for me. I just enjoy the atmosphere up there,” she said of her decision to sign with Katie Zimmerman’s Pioneers.
“After these two years, I want to start nursing school and if the opportunity to play volleyball at a four-year school comes along, I would jump at that, too.”
Jumping comes naturally for Armstrong who first started playing volleyball when she was six years old. A year or two later, she took things to another level by joining a club volleyball program. Playing year ‘round and on two different surfaces should prove beneficial as she plays indoor volleyball at SMC in the fall before being a member of the school’s beach volleyball team in the spring.
Armstrong received a taste of playing the game in the sand during the off-season at L-E, which has an on-campus outdoor court. Both she and Ham said one hand washes the other in terms of how each surface helps with the other one.
“During our summer practices,” Ham said, “we’re practicing in the sand a lot because it makes you stronger and it makes your reaction time to the ball a little better.”
As opposed to the traditional six-person indoor volleyball scheme, there are only two players on the smaller beach volleyball surface. That, Armstrong said, makes it just as, if not more, challenging than playing on a gym floor.
“Definitely the sand,” Armstrong said as to which surface helps her game more “It’s harder to move in sand and to dive in the sand. The sand is heavier and you’re not going to be on a hard surface. It’s definitely going to be a challenge to move around in the sand.
“Beach volleyball helps you move faster. It’s hard to jump out of the sand; it definitely weighs you down and you are not going to jump as high as you do in indoor volleyball. A lot of times, here in the summer, we do beach workouts just to help us get better movement on the court.”
At L-E, Armstrong’s skill set allowed Ham to use her along the net at right, middle and left hitter. With each passing season, Armstrong improved to the point to which she could play anywhere on the floor. Ham expects Zimmerman will use Armstrong that way in Spartanburg.
“Bella’s a great hitter. She’s smart and she really knows the game,” Ham said. “She has a lot of power and she is also great at blocking. This past season, specifically, she got a lot quicker with her blocking and reading the ball with her timing. She started to improve on her defense which is a huge plus for her. They will probably look at her to be a six-rotation player; instead of just playing front row, she’ll get some back row touches, too.
“I think she will do great in college. She’s playing both indoor and outdoor so she’s really been working on her quickness which is what she’ll need for the sand. It’s just a quicker game.”
Having played in Ham’s quick-set system, Armstrong said, has helped prepare her for what she will see at the next level.
“The tempo of playing at a fast pace, the rush of the game, the hard hits and all those things,” she said of the different in the high school and college game. “It’s going to be a challenge when you play in college. You will also face harder teams. It’s just a different atmosphere and it will be more challenging than high school volleyball.”
As a player who said she “loves hitting” Armstrong believes she will be used primarily as a front row hitter at SMC. That is where the power players reside. When it comes to that part of the game, Bella Armstrong can more than hold her own against older, more experienced players.
For Armstong, whose father Dr. Mike Armstrong is L-E’s offensive line coach, the school’s strength and wellness guru and a recent inductee into the South Carolina Strength Coaches Association Hall of Fame, being a well-rounded volleyball player hardly ends at the conclusion of a match or practice. Smiling when asked if her father pushes her in the weight room, Bella Armstrong uses a Tsunami bar, a flexible weight-bearing bar which helps athletes in core workouts, power, mobility and condition.
Bella Armstrong is sold on the benefits of the weight room which has helped pave the way to being able to play in college.
“He definitely pushes me,” she said with a smile. “Up until now, I’ve been in the weight room daily just trying to get stronger, being able to jump higher and working on my other skills. He has me working with Tsunami bars that wiggle when you jump.
“It definitely pays off to work out and then, go on the court and work some more.”