She's qualified because: Stepped into the setter's role after playing as an outside hitter last season and delivered 763 assists, 201 digs, 35 aces and 31 blocks to earn MVP honors for the Tri-River Athletic Conference champion Golden Eagles, who were the Central Section Division I runners-up.
Shannon Leary took the opportunity – her last before trading volleyball for vineyards – and ran with it.
Starting at her position of choice for the first time in three varsity seasons, Leary didn't allow the Clovis West High volleyball team's complicated and diverse offense to skip a beat following the graduation of four-year starting setter Melody Mandelbaum.
With Leary delivering a Central Section fourth-best 763 assists, the Golden Eagles went 28-8 overall, won the Tri-River Athletic Conference title and lost only once to section opposition, a 25-22, 25-17, 25-18 setback against Centennial during the team's third straight appearance in the Division I final.
"We handed her the keys to the Ferrari and told her ‘have fun, take it and do what you want,' " said Clovis West coach Rhonda DeRuiter of Leary, who set for the second-string offense as a sophomore before making an emergency switch to outside hitter while earning second-team All-TRAC honors last season.
"She knew the offensive system we wanted to run. She had practiced it as a setter and as a hitter, which gave her some insight. She did a phenomenal job from day one."
Leary – who will focus her attention on viticulture and the winemaking program at Cal Poly next fall despite interest from NCAA Division I, II and NAIA volleyball programs, according to DeRuiter – is The Bee's Player of the Year. It's the third straight year the honor has gone to the Golden Eagles, following Mandelbaum in 2009, and Mikayla Pierce and Lauren Albertson in 2008.
"This last school season was such a great experience for me. It was a great note to finish on," Leary said. "Last year was a great opportunity to hit and try something new, but setting is what I love to do, and it was great to get back to that and lead the team in that way.
"Everyone was really helpful. The other players and coaches were so supportive and really helped me get back to being confident in what I was doing."
DeRuiter said that even as a back-up setter and situational back-row player during her sophomore season, Leary played a crucial roll in the Golden Eagles' rise to section elite status.
Leary's versatility allowed DeRuiter to run the same offense – at virtually identical efficiency levels – on both sides of the net during practices.
"What a difference it was when Shannon stepped in," DeRuiter said. "It improved our block and our defense. It made us have to play at a much higher level in practice, not to mention it trained a setter for the future. And what happens in practice is what makes a team competitive and gets them to that next level."
DeRuiter also praised Leary for always putting the team first and taking on whatever roll she needed to fill. The payoff for Leary was being a key contributor to a three-year run that has seen the Golden Eagles go 89-26, including the school's first two section volleyball titles in 2008 and 2009.
"It's been amazing over the past couple of years," Leary said. "We've gone from being the underdogs my freshman year, and we've come to a place where we have a lot of confidence. Everyone on the team is sound in their skills and it's been fun to be able to compete not only with the top teams around here, but the top teams in the nation."