HIBBING — When Laurel Wright began her college education, playing athletics was the furthest thing on her mind.
The Longville native an Northland-Remer High School graduate wanted to concentrate on her studies. That was more important than playing collegiate athletics.
Wright, who is a nursing student at Hibbing Community College knew it would take all of her energy and focus to get through her classes during the 2011-12 school year.
But Wright was about to have a change of heart.
She decided to go out for spring volleyball and impressed Cardinal coach Mike Turnbull enough to land a spot on the team.
Now, Wright is a defensive specialist for Hibbing, excelling both on and off of the court.
Every now and then, Turnbull finds a diamond in the rough on campus. She was under everybody’s radar.
“We liked what we saw in the spring, so we got her on the team for this year,” Turnbull said. “She has fit in perfectly as the main defensive specialist, opposite the libero. We’ve picked up kids like that all of the time that are here and come in under the radar.
“We don’t about them unless they surface. All of her roommats were athletes, so she was around it enough to know that she wanted to get involved with everything. I appreciate it on her end. She’s a main ingredient as to what’s going on.”
Wright went through the pre-nursing program last year, so she’s a first-year nursing this year. Turnbull respects her ability to put academics and athletics together.
“More than anybody else on the team, she has a heavy academic load and a lot of stress,” Turnbull said. “She’s handling it extremly well. Volleyball is one of the sports that nurses can complete. It usually allows for volleyball to fit in.
“It’s a very intense program.”
Wright had to delay her athletic career because the nursing program at the college takes a lot of time and effort.
“I wanted to see how my schooling went first, then I was thinking about sports after that,” Wright said. “My roommate is the one who told me that I should be playing. I missed volleyball, so I decided to try it.
“I thought I could bring something to the table. Even though I’m not the best player, I thought I could bring something to the team.”
With the stress of the nursing program weighing heavily on her, Wright needed an outlet to let some of that steam go.
She found it on the court.
“Exercise is a good outlet,” Wright said. “It’s a way to relieve stress.”
Now, Wright had to find a way to balance out her class and volleyball schedules.
“I was nervous about it,” Wright said. “I knew that if I had any conflicts school, it would be school first. I would either have to drop out of volleyball or adjust my schedule somehow.”
That came into play last weekend when Hibbing went to the NDSCS Tournament. Wright had to stay home to focus on her schooling.
“It was disappointing but it was well worth it because I just passed my tests,” Wright said. “It takes a lot of pressure off of me. I feel like the team is more of a support system than anything.
“I’m thankful for how supportive they are. My coach is very understanding.”
Turnbull, who had to adjust his lineup with Wright’s absence, knows just how lucky he is to have Wright in his lineup. He found that out during the tourney.
“We handled it all right, but we are definitely smoother when Laurel goes through the rotation,” Turnbull said. “She’s also helped us with the serving, too. She usually serves cold. She’s told, ‘You’re serving this time.’
“She steps in and takes it.”
Wright wants to help the team in any way she can. She’s only missed one serve in 30-some attempts for the Cardinals.
“When I do serve, even though it’s periodically, I might as well show what I can do in the little time that I can,” Wright said.
So far, Wright has been able to enjoy both sides of college life.
“I’ve balanced things fairly well,” Wright said. “It’s a tough program. It’s a good college. I feel that I’m able to balance everything out nicely. I know what I need to do.”
Gary Giombetti can be reached at email@example.com.