CMU’s Perez proves she’s worthy of second shot

Erin Perez made the most of a second chance to try out for the Colorado Mesa volleyball team. She’s now a starting outside hitter for the Mavericks.

Erin Perez is far from home, but she knows what she wants.

The Colorado Mesa volleyball player from Kailua, Hawaii, wanted to go to school in Colorado and play volleyball, but being so far from home, she had to prove she could play.

Perez visited Colorado Mesa during spring break of her senior year in high school in 2012 with her father to look at colleges. During her visit, she had a tryout for the volleyball team.

“It was a lot of pressure,” CMU coach Dave Fleming said. “She had already wanted to come to school here, but we didn’t know how serious she was about Colorado Mesa at the time. We knew she was good enough for a tryout, but let’s just say she didn’t have her best day.”

Fleming turned her down, but Perez decided to attend Mesa anyway. She played on the CMU club team her freshman year.

“I was disappointed, but I told myself go to college and get that experience,” Perez said. “I had an amazing career up until that time I tried out, so I was fine with where I was at. When I did come back and try out again, I kept working out during my fall semester. I wanted to see where I was at the end of my fall semester.”

Perez was a four-year letterwinner in high school and an all-state selection her senior year. She was No. 9 on the “Fab 15” list for the top players in Hawaii, and her high school team placed third in state in the big-school division.

Perez tried out again in December, after the 2012 season ended. She performed better and earned an opportunity for an extended tryout during spring practice in 2013.

Each week, she gained more confidence.

“We had our weekly meetings with (Fleming during spring ball),” Perez said. “With me, it was always, ‘keep working hard. We’ll see where you’re at the end of the spring.’ I was always sitting at the edge of my seat wondering if he’d tell me if I made the team or to keep improving.”

By the end of spring practice, Fleming offered her a roster spot.

“I wanted to cheer and I wanted to cry,” Perez said. “It was such a blessing I got that opportunity. When we came to practice that day, he announced it.”

The rest of the team was already convinced she could play.

“The first weekend (in spring), we were like ‘Coach, sign her,’ ” team captain Sunni Rae Baird said. “We forgot she wasn’t officially on the team until the end of the spring. He was like, ‘OK, guys, Erin’s going to be on the team.’ We were like, ‘She is on the team. What do you mean?’ “

Fleming said he typically has 30 women try out each December. In his eight years, he’s taken two — Perez and Tessa Andrews (2007-09), a transfer from Northern Arizona.

Fleming and assistant David Skaff considered putting Perez at libero because of her ball-handling skills and the graduation of Megan Rush.

With Casey Ball coming off knee surgery, the coaches decided to put Perez at outside hitter.

“A lot goes back to her volleyball IQ,” Fleming said. “She reads really well what’s going on on the other side of the net. Because of that, she has a good idea where she can get kills.”

Perez has been a regular starter and contributor for the Mavericks (17-5, 9-4 RMAC). The sophomore has 165 kills, fourth on the team. She is second on the team in digs with 222.

“She’s a big part of it,” Fleming said. “The ability to attack and terminate at the pins opens up what we’re trying to do in the middle. I’ve always said you win volleyball matches on the left with the big swings.

“She’s doing a great job for us in the front row. All our outside hitters are hitting above .150. We haven’t had three outside hitters that high in a long time.”

Perez is simply thrilled to be a part of the team and Mesa’s success.

“It’s truly amazing,” Perez said. “I never really imagined myself playing at such a high level, but I’m definitely grateful for the chance.”


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