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Volleyball player Mckenna Steiner spikes ball

Student-Athlete Spotlight | Mckenna Steiner

After a stand-out freshman season, the Yaks hitter aims to elevate her game

Through the first month of the 2023 season, Yakima Valley College’s volleyball team was decidedly average. After losing three of four matches in September’s NWAC Crossover, the Yaks emerged with an overall record of 8-8 — off the radar as a team likely to make any noise come the playoffs.

“We had our ups and downs,” said freshman outside hitter Mckenna Steiner. “We had our losing games and we had games where we performed well.” 

Despite the team’s early inconsistency, it was also possessed grit that came through when it mattered most. And Steiner epitomized that for the Yaks, not just playing through a season-long injury, but excelling.

Volleyball player Mckenna Steiner blocks spike
ABOVE: Mckenna Steiner gets a block during a 3-2 victory over Spokane on September 13, 2023, at Sherer Gymnasium. TOP: Steiner with the spike during the Yaks victory over Highline during the third place game of the 2023 NWAC Volleyball Championships.

The road to Yakima  

Steiner grew up playing both soccer and volleyball in Clearfield, Utah, north of Salt Lake City. When Head Coach Darci Dekker first reached out to her about playing for YVC, Steiner didn’t think about it too much. 

“Washington was really far away from home, so at first I was kind of iffy about it,” she said. But after reading more about YVC and learning what Dekker emphasized in her coaching, Steiner realized that the Yaks were the right team for her.  

“In the end, Darci really stressed that she made her team like family,” Steiner said. “She made sure that we were really close and really focused on the fundamentals of volleyball. I just knew that with that coaching style I would fit in well.” 

While Steiner captained her high school volleyball team and was named honorable mention to Utah’s 6A all-state team her senior year, she noted the jump from high school to collegiate competition came with more pressure. 

“For college, it’s like our job,” she said. “There’s definitely more stress about the fundamentals, winning and losing, really getting close with the team so that we can perform our best.”

Volleyball player Mckenna Steiner celebrates with teammates
Mckenna Steiner celebrates with her teammates following a point during an Oct. 4, 2023 match versus Wenatchee Valley.

When we did make it to the Elite 8 and we had that opportunity, I really think we just put ourselves aside [as individuals] and just got together as a team.” — Mckenna Steiner

The underdog

After finishing the regular season third in the East Region, expectations outside the locker room were low for the Yaks entering the NWAC Regionals.  

“I don’t think anyone expected us to be there [in the tournament], especially after our record over the season,” Steiner said. “We could even tell by the teams that we played that they weren’t expecting us to come out and play like the way we did.” 

But even during the up-and-down regular season, Steiner noted the team was growing closer.

“There were a lot of games that we would come off the court after a loss that, afterwards in the locker room, we really connected and we had good talks about what it is to be a team and the honor is to be playing for Darci and for YVC,” she said.

In regionals, the Yaks won two of three matches and became only the second team during the season to force eventual NWAC champion Linn Benton to five sets. In the final match to claim a spot in the Elite 8, Steiner had nine kills to help the team overcome a two-set deficit.

Volleyball player Mckenna Steiner prepares to serve
Mckenna Steiner prepares to serve in the quarterfinals of the 2023 NWAC Championships.

Steiner said Dekker’s emphasis on simplifying things and teammates trusting each other helped the Yaks elevate its play in the playoffs.  

“If we come together as a team, we know that on the court we know how to play and so we just have to put our hearts out onto the court,” she said. “So when we did make it to the Elite 8 and we had that opportunity, I really think we just put ourselves aside [as individuals] and just got together as a team.”

After upsetting the West Region’s top seed, Lower Columbia, in the quarterfinals the Yaks fell to East Region No. 1 North Idaho in the semifinals to set up a third-place match versus East No. 2 seed Highline. Staving off multiple Highline match points in the fourth set, the Yaks rallied to a come-from-behind victory with Steiner tallying 19 kills and 16 digs. 

“That victory really just showed the work we put in and why we did it,” said Steiner, who was named to the NWAC Tournament All-Star First Team.

Volleyball player Mckenna Steiner prepares to serve
Mckenna Steiner prepares to serve versus Spokane on Sept. 13, 2023.

Steiner’s accolade was even more remarkable considering that it came while she was playing with a broken foot. 

“During the season I had a foot problem and it was kind of just there the whole season,” she said. “I didn’t really think anything of it because it was just a pain in my foot for awhile so I wanted to play through.”

While the pain worsened over the course of the season, Steiner said she did her best to treat her foot and block out the pain during games. 

“I knew that if I took myself out, I wouldn’t like it,” she said. “I needed to be there for my team and I knew that in the end it would be worth it.” 

Following the season, Steiner had a plate and several screws put in her foot and is on track with her recovery for a healthy sophomore season.

Volleyball player Mckenna Steiner spikes ball
Mckenna Steiner racked up 329 kills during the 2023 season, No. 9 in the Northwest Athletic Conference.

Steiner is studying early childhood education with plans to pursue a career as a daycare teacher. She’s hoping for an opportunity to transfer to a four-year school where she can continue playing volleyball and earn a bachelor’s degree in teaching.  

But in the meantime, Steiner looks forward to proving that the Yaks 2023 playoff run was no mirage and to shed the underdog label. 

“Going forward into this next year getting first in the East Region is really what we’re working for,” she said. “With the team we have now I really think we can do it. I think with our experience that we had in the NWAC tournament and our teamwork, this next year I think we can make it to NWAC and win it.” 

Story by Dustin Wunderlich, director of community relations. Photos by Ross Courtney.