LA PORTE CITY — Brian Jesse knows talent when he sees it.
Several skilled players have left marks on a Union Community volleyball program that has reached the state tournament during five of Jesse’s six seasons as head coach. None have attacked the ball quite like Megan Hudson.
“She’s such an explosive jumper,” Jesse said. “She gets up not only high, but she gets up quick. That’s tough for people to combat.
“I have never coached a girl that could get up that quick or high. That separates her.”
Hudson has opened her final season of prep volleyball by surpassing the school’s career kills record of 1,072 set by Sam Barz from 2009 through 2012. Former teammate and 2015 Union graduate Maria Wrage finished just shy of the mark with 1,069 kills, while Hudson has upped her total to 1,207 kills through last weekend’s tournament matches at Southeast Polk.
The Knights’ most prolific attacker was an eighth grader when Barz was the centerpiece of a Union team that reached the state finals.
“She was competitive and she got after it,” Hudson said of Barz. “All of us younger ones looked up to her and the seniors that were on that state runner-up team.
“For me it was huge (breaking the record), knowing Union’s past in volleyball. We’re known for what we do here and how hard we work.”
Hudson, who led Class 3A with 458 kills last season, is also a consistent state track placewinner in the hurdle and sprint events. She says she wasn’t the most coordinated or athletic member of her group of friends growing up, but always had a desire to challenge herself through athletics.
After completing a growth spurt, Hudson turned to the sport of volleyball, joining a then upstart Club Iowa Junior program co-directed by Chris and Kalani Mahi with Kekailoa Palea serving as an assistant director.
That program gave her the opportunity to travel to national tournaments, and the competition instilled in her the value of never taking points lightly.
“I wasn’t the best player on the court,” Hudson recalls. “But they saw potential in me. I was big for my age and starting to get the feel for how the game went and what I needed to do to compete at that level. “
By Hudson’s freshman year of high school, she was a front row attacker for a Union state tournament team. She evolved into a full-rotation player ranking second to Wrage in kills during another state run sophomore year.
Despite returning all but one player from that 2014 team, Union’s streak of five consecutive state tournament appearances was snapped by Center Point-Urbana last season. It was a loss that has driven Union to quicken its attack and solidify its defense during the early part of its 2016 campaign.
Hudson is one of six seniors on this year’s roster.
“It was a huge letdown for us and the community,” Hudson said. “We were good last year, but the match-up was tough for us and I don’t think we were there mentally. Knowing that we’re all together as seniors, it’s our last year, gives us that edge.”
Added Jesse, “I think it definitely motivated the group that is seniors this year. We all had a taste of what it’s like to be at the state tournament, but we just didn’t feel like we had the kind of year we were capable of last year. We struggled at times and maybe part of it was we didn’t have any senior leaders.”
Hudson’s leadership approach is one of unity.
“I try to keep everybody together, don’t lose the mindset of what we’re trying to accomplish,” she said. “I try to help everybody realize it’s team. It doesn’t matter if something bad happens. We’ve just got to keep calm and stay focused.”
Working together, Union has held a No. 4 ranking in Class 3A with a 10-3 start that has included wins over 1A No. 1 Janesville, 4A No. 3 Marion and 5A No. 8 Johnston. This past weekend, the Knights were defeated twice by 5A’s No. 1 Ankeny Centennial, but only after going to a tiebreaking third set.
Hudson shined against the competition.
“This weekend I thought she played some of the best volleyball that’s she’s played,” Jesse said. “She’s going up against a top-ranked team. They knew we were going out to her and she still consistently put the ball down for us. That goes to show how talented she is.”
Hudson has also demonstrated talent on the track — running on state championship shuttle hurdle and 4x100 relay teams, and placing second in the 100 hurdles and fourth in the open 200 at last spring’s state meet.
Undecided on her college plans, Hudson is leaning toward track and looking forward to an upcoming visit with Northern Iowa’s program.
“I was thinking that volleyball was the thing I really wanted to do, but this past year I kind of realized that I want to do track,” Hudson said. “The environment just being at state track and Drake Relays was a huge thing for me.
“Volleyball, it’s a team thing, you rely on each other. Track you have to set your own goals and achieve them. You have to push yourself. I just like the way that you rely on yourself to do your job and you have to hold yourself accountable to achieve so you don’t let others down.”