McKenna Vicini has always been bigger than most girls her age.
“I was probably a foot taller than everyone in kindergarten,” said Vicini, a 6-foot-2 senior at Lexington Catholic. “I’ve always been very tall. I was like 22 inches and 11 pounds when I was born. From the very start, I was big.”
There are plenty of college basketball programs who wouldn’t mind adding a 6-2 frame to their roster as long as she could dribble and chew gum at the same time. But Vicini parlayed her size into one of the most valuable gifts attainable in volleyball, her favorite sport: A scholarship from Stanford University, whose seven NCAA titles are tied with Penn State for the most in Division I history.
“I played basketball in sixth grade and I just wasn’t really into the physical contact part of it. It’s a little aggressive,” Vicini said with a laugh. “I like having the net separating us.”
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PrepVolleyball.com recently named Vicini, a middle blocker, as the No. 10 recruit in the class of 2019. She was one of three underclassmen named as a first-team All-City selection in 2017.
There was a time when such accolades were unimaginable.
“I did little camps at Dunbar while I was in elementary school. That was just playing with a beach ball and little stuff like that,” Vicini said. “Then I started playing club my seventh grade year and I remember my first tournament and I was just like, ‘What do they play games to?’ I was clueless. So, it was a little rough at first. It was not anywhere near like it is now.
“But I just loved it from the very start. I knew it’s what I wanted to do.”
Vicini works out with Ted Butler, a local personal trainer, and enjoys that because she gets to compete against male athletes. She practices yoga, too, often doing it alone in her room between school-study sessions and private volleyball lessons.
“Just anything to help my body and my skills to improve, ‘cause I know it requires a lot of work,” Vicini said. “I could be really bad right now if I didn’t work.”
High school volleyball is still relatively young in Lexington — public schools in the city didn’t sponsor the sport at the varsity level until 1994, and the local club scene just started to blow up within the last decade — but the city has begun to steadily produce high-profile talent. Vicini is one of the latest volleyball prodigies in the last few years to play in Lexington, joining the likes of Kaitlyn Hord (from Henry Clay to Penn State), Leah Edmond (Dunbar to UK) and Doris Carter (Tates Creek to Alabama).
“The talent here is clearly growing,” Vicini said. “... We’re just in the start of growing this but it’s growing at a rapid pace. I think really soon we’ll have schools that are winning state and going all over the country, ‘cause we’re already having bits and pieces of that.”
First on her own team’s agenda is qualifying for the 11th Region Tournament, something Lexington Catholic hasn’t done since 2011, when Vicini was still a fifth-grader unaware of her future volleyball prowess. The Knights have had three straight winning seasons under Ashley Federle, who took over the program in 2013.
Making the 43rd District finals would itself be a big achievement — Dunbar and Tates Creek are perennial top-15 programs in the state and securing a region berth would probably mean needing to knock off one of those two.
“When I was an eighth-grader on the team, the whole program was completely different,” Vicini said. “It was more of just a social aspect, but now we’ve changed the program to be competitive and we’re here to win and compete rather than just go out there and play. The girls coming in, they’re starting to see that through us seniors who have been here, and I hope they’ll take that on with them as they grow.”