By Dave Dyer
---- — Looking back, sports burnout may have been a blessing in disguise for Derry’s Kenna Finlayson.
Finlayson had been doing gymnastics since she was 3 years old and, after a year of it at Pinkerton Academy, she was ready for a change.
“I just wanted to try something different,” said Finlayson, now a senior volleyball standout at Rivier College. “I’d been doing gymnastics so long.”
As a Pinkerton sophomore, Finlayson decided to give volleyball a try, a decision that has turned out beautifully for her and the Rivier program.
“I pretty much fell in love with the sport from the start,” she said.
Enjoying the sport, which entails a fair amount of technique, and mastering it are two very different things entirely. She played JV for the Astros as a sophomore and junior before finally making the varsity squad her senior year.
She started her senior year as an outside hitter and made great strides as the team enjoyed a fine season, advancing all the way to the championship game before losing to Spaulding.
By that time, Finlayson was taking volleyball quite seriously. She had started playing travel club volleyball and, following her final season as an Astro, she caught the eye of Rivier coach Craig Kolek.
Despite her limited background, Kolek liked what he saw and recruited the 5-foot-9-inch Finlayson aggressively enough to land her.
“She was raw, but she was athletic and she was strong,” said Kolek, a former Merrimack College hockey player who gravitated to volleyball and became a semi-pro beach volleyball player. “Strength was the big thing. I think her gymnastics background really helped.”
Kolek’s evaluation couldn’t have been more accurate.
In four years at Rivier, Finlayson made all-conference all four years, established the school record for kills and aces, and become one of the top players in New England. She was instrumental in Rivier winning the GNAC title last year and finishing runner-up while going 24-10 this fall.
“She’s head and shoulders the best female player I’ve ever had in 14 years and the best female player ever at Rivier,” Kolek said. “She dominates at the net and she does it all. It’s really amazing.”
Finlayson credits Kolek for her soaring development at Rivier, but he deflects much of the praise.
“Because she had the athleticism, it was easy to teach her things,” Kolek said. “It was just her doing things over and over, and developing consistency.”
Although she may have gotten tired of the sport, Finlayson believes her gymnastics training was instrumental to her development as a volleyball player.
“Gymnastics had a lot to do with it,” she said. “I could jump high because of it and I had pretty good power, and you need both.”
Partly because of her success at volleyball, but maybe more because she just loves playing so much, Finlayson has no intention of quitting the sport. With the college season over, she’s playing in an adult league and next month she’s trying out for a New England team that has just joined the Professional Volleyball League.
“I definitely want to play as long as I can,” said Finlayson, a biology major who ultimately would like to be a physician’s assistant.