At 5-foot-5, the height she reached in the eighth grade, Maggie Eppright sticks out on her Fresno State volleyball team.
That’s because Eppright, a former San Luis Obispo High star, is the shortest player on the roster.
But what she lacks in height, Eppright makes up for in skill.
The former Tribune San Luis Obispo County Player of the Year as a junior is the starting libero for the Bulldogs as a freshman.
Thus far, she has team highs for digs in a four-set match with 28 against Utah State, and she tallied 27 digs against UC Irvine in four sets.
Eppright has recorded seven other double-digit dig figures this season in her 13 starts, including 16 digs against UNLV in three sets.
The Bulldogs are 11-8 overall and 5-2 in the Mountain West Conference.
Her preparation for libero came when she played the position for two years on the 805 Elite club volleyball team coached by Justin Hutchins and in preseason training with the Bulldogs.
In her junior year at San Luis Obispo in 2011, Eppright racked up 757 assists as setter to lead the Tigers to a PAC 7 title.
Her ability to control the ball as a libero in club volleyball was critical to the team’s success competing against Los Angeles area teams, Hutchins said.
“As a former college coach, I’d get 50 emails per day from players her size interested in playing libero in college,” Hutchins said. “For a kid to get picked out of that crowd from the sheer number of people who play at that position is impressive. For her to make an impact at the Division I level as a freshman is even more impressive.”
Hutchins, a former Cal Poly assistant coach, was an assistant at Fresno State when Eppright was a senior in high school and helped recruit her.
Her high school accomplishments warranted attention from college programs, but the Fresno State coaching staff — led by head coach Lauren Netherby-Sewell — needed some persuading.
“I was definitely the one who knew her best, and I had to convince the rest of the staff to take her sight unseen,” Hutchins said. “She had all the awards and accolades, but it took a little selling.”
Hutchins left the Bulldogs’ program in the spring because the collegiate coaching lifestyle was too taxing on his family and raising two young children, he said. Hutchins now lives in Utah and works in real estate.
But even without her former coach helping to guide her, Eppright, who had also been considering UC Irvine, is confident she picked the right school.
“I chose Fresno State based on the entire coaching staff and the girls on the team,” Eppright said in a phone interview. “I enjoyed meeting the team and watching games. It just felt like a school I’d love to be at.”
The Bulldogs posted an 18-13 record last year after four straight losing seasons and have steadily improved under Netherby-Sewell, who’s in her sixth year at the helm.
Eppright began building rapport with her teammates by attending summer session workouts and driving one way to Fresno from San Luis Obispo to attend open gyms and practice with the Bulldogs.
Her adjustment required becoming more attuned to fast-paced play.
“It’s definitely a huge step up,” Eppright said. “I’ve really worked with the coaches to watch the hitters’ eyes and reading them better. They’ve had me work on not trying to guess but to anticipate and to trust that I’m fast enough to get there.”
In addition to libero, Eppright also played defensive specialist in a few matches early in the season, but she’s settled into starting libero.
“It has been really fun to be able to start and to be in this position,” Eppright said. “It was kind of surreal to get the opportunity to play in a game-setting like that (in her first start).”
Her high school coach, Manny Carter, called Eppright “a hard worker” and “a good leader.”
Carter said he’s not surprised by Eppright’s success because she was a good passer while playing setter with the Tigers.
“She has great hands,” Carter said. “She’s the hardest worker I’ve ever coached.”
At the collegiate level, Eppright said that good time-management, and being able to balance school work and volleyball, is essential.
“You have to be productive all the time,” she said. “Athletes have to complete study hall. You have to manage your time and balance it all. Missing school is hard when you’re away for matches, but the professors are really supportive of the athletes.”
Eppright said three of her four classes are in her major of interior design, and she hopes to operate her own business someday. But she also would like to serve as a volleyball coach once her college career is done.
“I’d love to end up coaching somewhere,” Eppright said. “I can’t imagine volleyball not being part of my life in some way.”