There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the mere thought of strength training weighed Peyton Lindblad down. As a junior at Riverbend, Lindblad practically required an escort to the gym from her father and head volleyball coach, Jack.

“I hated going: ‘Like this sucks, whatever,’” recalled Lindblad, now a senior at Shepherd University. “Then once I finally started seeing those results, it was almost like an addiction.”

Lindblad’s evolution into a fitness junkie helped her reach one of her biggest goals—literally. After testing at 9 feet, 4 inches as an incoming freshman, Lindblad touched 10 feet earlier this summer.

“She’s added at least eight inches to her vertical [jump] in three and a half years,” Shepherd coach Alex Hoekstra said. “There’s not too many athletes that come into college and have that much of a transformation with their athletic ability.”

Coming off a junior season in which she led the Rams with 438 kills and earned all-conference honors, Lindblad is hoping her enhanced hops will help the Rams reach new heights. Shepherd reached the NCAA tournament last year for the first time in program history.

Lindblad remembers the big dinners, T–shirts and domed NCAA paperweights gifted to players as trinkets for making the field. The Rams only graduated one starter but face a challenge in transitioning conferences from the Mountain East to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.

“Knowing that every weekend we’re going to be fighting for a region spot is making us even hungrier,” she said. “Last year, we made [NCAAs] but how far can we push it?”

Even a modest boost broadens Lindblad’s approach at the net. Instead of hitting around the block, she can simply hit over it. Defensively, she reduces pressure on the Rams’ back line by covering more ground vertically.

Hoekstra gives his athletes a guided workout plan to follow, complete with plyometrics and olympic lifts. But that wasn’t enough for Lindblad.

“She just wanted to keep going,” Hoekstra said. “She didn’t want to plateau. She started asking questions, she got into the form. It was a huge motivation in reaching that goal and trying to be the best she could be.

“She wasn’t really a bouncy person who knew how to jump; she brought that out of nowhere. That’s totally up to her work ethic and her will to get there.”

For Lindblad, peak shape requires equal parts strategy and sweat. Volleyball demands a body capable of explosive movements and rapid recoveries. To simulate a match environment, Lindblad follows up back squats with approach jumps in quick succession.

“My body is used to pushing heavy ground,” she said. “When you’re in the fifth set of that game and your legs feel like they’re about the fall off, you have to be ready to jump as high as you can and put up a big block.”

As a right-side hitter, Lindblad’s job entails delivering powerful swings on quick sets.

“Peyton is almost like an assassin,” Hoekstra said. “We just want her to get out there and get kills and score points. If she has to get into a zone, then we let her do that.”

Off the court, however, Lindblad is focused on healing. She’s spent chunks of her last three summers working part-time at Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center. As a scribe, she shadows doctors, observing procedures and recording all patient interactions. After graduating next spring, she plans to join the Air Force as a nurse.

When Hoesktra recruited Lindblad at Riverbend, she already stood 6 feet but often displayed goofy footwork, meaning she approached hits with the wrong foot.

“But she had a passion and aggressiveness when she would play that I liked,” he said.

So Hoekstra invited Lindblad to Shepherd’s summer camp. There, she forged bonds with most of her current teammates as part of Hoekstra’s first recruiting class.

Her camp team scrimmaged Shepherd’s varsity squad and actually took a set in the process. A couple of weeks ago, Lindblad attended Shepherd’s summer camp for the final time. It was a surreal experience demonstrating drills and mentoring girls whose position she occupied just four years ago.

“It was fun coming full circle,” she said.

As a freshman, Lindblad started and led an inexperienced Rams team in kills. Despite missing eight weeks of her sophomore season with a dislocated knee, she returned and led Shepherd to a resurgent 23–7 record.

“Out of the gate, I felt like she could compete,” Hoekstra said.

And last season, she learned how to lead. As one of Shepherd’s three captains, Lindblad realized she could reach her teammates more effectively by setting examples than shouting directives.

“People are seeing her in the weight room or working hard on the court; it brings everyone else’s level of play up,” Hoekstra said. “There’s not too many girls who are going to outwork her.”

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Joey LoMonaco: 540/368-5045

jlomonaco@freelancestar.com

@joeylomonaco

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