The 6-foot-3 junior, who plays both outside hitter and middle blocker in addition to being a defensive specialist in the back row, was instrumental in the Irish winning its sixth consecutive PAISAA state volleyball championship earlier this month. In the semifinals and finals, Shaak led the team in kills, kills percentage and aces, and was second in blocks while playing outside for the majority of play. Her father, Mike Shaak, played basketball as a 6-foot-8 forward for Saint Joseph’s University in the late 1980s. She has committed to play volleyball for North Carolina State.
Q: Tell us a little about your experience in the PAISAA championship. What was working particularly well for you, and your team, that day? What was your sharpest memory from the championship?
A: I think what was working well for us during the championship game was our spot serving and mixing up the shots when hitting. The sharpest memory I have from the championship game was when I turned to the players in the front row and we started singing “Move Your Feet” to get our nerves out. Everybody played with a lot of heart and it was an awesome win.
Q: Coach Mike Sheridan mentioned your kill proficiency in the PAISAA tournament. What was the biggest key to your success in this area?
A: During the PAISAA finals my kill percentage was up because I got a lot of great sets. The biggest key when hitting is to stay behind the ball to get an aggressive swing.
Q: What do you think is the strongest part of your game? What part of your game are you currently working on the most currently?
A: I have been a middle since I was 10 years old, so I would say the strongest part of my game is blocking. The part of my game that I am working on the most is hitting higher and around the block. I am also working really hard on passing in serve receive and defense in the back row.
Q: You’ve played outside hitter, middle blocker and defensive specialist in the back row for Academy of Notre Dame. Can you tell us briefly what you think are the primary attributes for each position?
A: I have played middle since I was in fifth grade so that’s the most natural position for me. The primary attribute for being a middle blocker is knowing where the ball is going as soon as it leaves the setters hands. Being able to get to the pins fast to block and staying with your middle are very important parts of being a middle blocker. Playing outside was really different, but fun for me this season. When being on the outside you have to work really hard to transition off the net to take a big approach to swing. You also need to be able to switch where you are swinging based on the location and timing of the blockers. Playing back row was extremely new and challenging for me this year. A primary attribute for playing in the back row is being able to read the hitters arm to see where the ball is going. Also, communication between players in the back row is key.
Q: Who have been your top volleyball mentors, and what was the most important thing you learned from each of them?
A: There have been many people who have gotten me to where I am today. My top mentors have been Brenda Collins, my CYO coach; Mike Sheridan, my Notre Dame coach; and all of my East Coast Power Club Coaches. The most important thing I have learned from all of these coaches is to always have a positive attitude and that no matter what happens, never show poor body language or be negative. All of these coaches have had a lasting impact on me and have taught me lessons to know for life.
Q: Tell us a little about your pre-game preparation on the day of a game.
A: My Notre Dame team usually starts game day off with a bagel breakfast before school. After school, prior to the game, we get hyped up with music and dancing. This gets us excited and ready to play.
Q: You wear uniform jersey No. 24 for Notre Dame. Is there a reason you chose that number?
A: I chose this number because Kobe Bryant, the team’s favorite person, wore this number while playing for the Lakers. Also, my dad was No. 42 while playing basketball at Saint Joe’s so instead of being 42, I decided to flip the numbers and make it 24.
Q: What attracted you to North Carolina State?
A: There were many things that attracted me to NC State. First, I knew I wanted to play in the ACC since it is a very competitive conference and most of the schools are on the east coast. The thing I loved most was the team camaraderie and how everyone on the team acted like a family. Another thing that grabbed my attention was how welcoming everyone was. I also loved the coaches, facilities, and everyone who works with the team.
Q: Do you participate in any other extracurricular activities at Academy of Notre Dame?
A: I am on Student Council, and participate in Meals for Many and Operation Smile Club.
Fun facts – Riley Shaak
Favorite TV show: One Tree Hill.
Favorite movie: A Star is Born.
Favorite athlete: Kobe Bryant.
Favorite pre-game pump-up song: Move Your Feet.
Favorite team: Sixers.
Favorite place to visit: Bahamas.
Favorite pre-game meal: Peanut butter and jelly.
Person I most admire: “The person I admire the most is my brother, Mike. He is very goal oriented and when he sets his mind to something, he gets it done. He is my best friend and I am lucky to have someone like him in my life.”
Family members: parents Mike and Diane, brother Mike, dog Barkley.
(To be selected as Main Line Girls Athlete of the Week, a student-athlete must first be nominated by her coach.)
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