By Josh Brown
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Lauren Freed entered her freshman season at the College of Charleston with no expectations.
That made exceeding them easy. But the Troy High School graduate has gone ahead and blown them up anyway, as if they were an opposing blocker.
After playing her way into a starting role on the C of C Cougars volleyball team, Freed has dominated, leading the team in kills in its past four matches — including all three victories at the Hampton Inn Charleston/West Ashley C of C Classic tournament on Sept. 9 and 10, where she won the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award. And on Monday, Freed was named the Colonial Athletic Association’s volleyball Rookie of the Week, further putting her star power on display early in her college career.
And while it comes as no surprise to anyone who saw her lead the Trojans to the district final three times and win three Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division Player of the Year awards in high school … she can’t help but be a little shocked.
“I mean, I am still surprised at everything that’s been happening,” Freed said. “I would never have expected to play as much as I have, let alone get awards like that. It feels so great. I haven’t expected anything that’s happened, honestly. I just try to stay focused on what I need to do and work hard and keep showing people that I’m willing to work hard to prove myself and get a position on the court.”
Proving herself was the easy part. All she needed was a chance.
Freed didn’t see much playing time in the Cougars’ first five matches, tying for the team high in kills with nine in the third match of the season, a sweep of Binghamton. She only got in for one set in back-to-back losses to Loyola (Chicago) and Wake Forest, but she announced her presence in a three-set sweep of Davidson, leading the team once again in kills with 12 and adding nine digs.
Since that match, she has led the team in kills in a total of four straight matches — all C of C victories.
“At first, having to adjust to moving away from home and a brand new team, it was all a bit overwhelming,” Freed said. “Once I got into the grove of things, everything’s been going great since then. I wasn’t expecting to go in at all, let alone start.
“We have four outside hitters. During preseason, we’d all rotate in and out of drills and see where everyone fit in best. I got a couple chances to show what I have, and I thought I showed pretty well. Once they put us in real games, when we actually started to play and I got to go in and prove myself, I performed, I think. I hope. I just try to play for my teammates and make sure I don’t let them down. It’s not about just one person. It’s about the whole team together.”
The Davidson match was only the beginning. She truly signed at C of C’s home tournament.
In the tournament opener against VCU, she had her first collegiate double-double with 20 kills and 11 digs in a four-set victory, then in another four-set win over Charleston Southern, she had 18 kills — tied for the team high with Kennedy Madison — and a career-high 20 digs, also the team high. And in the title match, another four-set win over Eastern Michigan, she had yet another team high in kills with 19 and added 12 digs, two aces and even two assists.
She currently leads the team in kills with 84 and is second in digs with 71, showing just how quickly she’s adjusted to the college game — which she has already noticed the difference in from high school.
“There is a lot of differences,” Freed said. “It’s a lot more intense than high school. In high school, there’d be a week where you’d have some easy games. In college, obviously it’s still fun and exciting, but every game is a tough game. You have to play 100 percent in every game. You can’t take anything for granted. That’s the biggest difference I’ve noticed.”
But playing more and more with her new teammates has been a big help.
“During the preseason, it’s a little awkward at first,” she said. “You’re trying to get used to each other and learn how everyone reacts to each other on the court and trying to get to know them off the court, too. But once we got playing … everyone knows we’re there for the same reason. It’s a lot easier to bond over that. We all get along really great and have great chemistry. Even in games when we’re struggling and can’t get out of a rut, we still have fun. Even when we’re down. And I think that just comes from being comfortable around each other and knowing that we’re all going to give our all, no matter what.”
The Cougars’ season continues at the Baylor Classic tournament in Waco, Texas this weekend, with Freed and company facing Washington State Friday in the tournament opener.
Where Freed’s goal is to continue expecting nothing — and working for everything.
“My goal is to just take it day by day and practice by practice, keep working hard and keep my head down and focused and just give it my all every time. And I’ll see where that takes me,” Freed said.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.