COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 2, 2015) – Hard work and additional confidence in her own play guided Monique Burkland (Ardmore, Okla.), a middle blocker on the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team, to a successful 2015 season that included yet another golden milestone.
For her efforts, Burkland has been selected as the 2015 USA Volleyball Female Sitting Team Player of the Year. Teammate Alexis Shifflett (Waseca, Minn.), a setter on the squad, has been chosen as the 2015 USA Volleyball Female Sitting Team Most Improved Player.
Burkland, a standout among an American squad filled with other international stars, helped the world's second-ranked U.S. Women’s Sitting Team to a 12-6 record in 2015, including the first-ever gold medal at the 2015 Parapan American Games after qualifying for the 2016 Paralympic Games at the 2014 ParaVolley World Championships. She averaged 1.70 kills, 0.73 aces and 0.61 blocks per set for the 2015 season with a scoring average of 3.04 points per set. Burkland held a .296 hitting efficiency for the season while converting 39.1 percent of her attacks into points.
“It means a great deal for me to be selected for this honor, because it shows that hard work does pay off,” Burkland said. “I honestly work my hardest every time I sit down on that court. I think it is all finally coming together for me. I am now a more confident player that knows my hard work throughout the years has led me to be able to execute the plays and passing during the game.”
Aside from her scoring in 2015, Burkland was 43 percent positive on 194 receptions while adding 1.11 digs per set. She also contributed 19 assists.
“Monique Burkland has been a standout player for the women’s team this year due to her consistent play,” U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team Head Coach Bill Hamiter said. “She has excelled in multiple roles and played all the way around on the court. Her serving and passing has helped solidify our serve and serve receive system. Her front row play has been exceptional from both the middle (her primary position), the outside and right side. I couldn’t be more pleased with her impact this year.”
Shifflett has filled a variety of roles for the U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team beyond being a back-up setter. Her skills enabled her to enter 44 sets in 2015 and she delivered in many areas. Shifflett averaged 1.14 assists per set as the main backup setter, but she also charted 0.34 aces, 0.95 digs and 0.36 blocks per set. She was perfect on 37 percent of her receptions. According to Hamiter, Shifflett has developed into one of the team’s best defensive players while improving on the front row.
“Alexis Shifflett has not only worked hard this year, but also dedicated herself to improve in roles that would help the team,” Hamiter said. “She has become one of our strongest defensive players and one of the most efficient players on the front row at reading and block movement. She has done this while improving her setting and leadership skills. She has become a valuable asset for our run at a gold medal in Rio.”
Burkland, who crushed her left foot in a forklift accident at a summer job shortly after she graduated from high school in 2007, has truly developed into an elite sitting volleyball player despite not having a volleyball background as a prep. She was an all-state softball player in high school, along with playing basketball and track. Her athletic ability allowed her to pick up sitting volleyball quickly to where she has now won two World Championship silver medals (2010, 2014) and the 2012 Paralympic Games silver medal.
However, Burkland and Team USA will be looking to reach a new high in 2016. The Americans have had their last four major competitions end with a loss to China in the gold-medal match – including the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games and the 2010 and 2014 World Championship.
Burkland believes the team is inches away from realizing their first gold medal in the Paralympic Games, which started in 2004 for women’s sitting volleyball. With a few new wrinkles that were starting to be put in place in 2015, she feels the 2016 Paralympics may be the year for Team USA.
“I believe with some of the changes that our coach Bill Hamiter is making to our play and positions will elevate us to be able to take gold in Rio,” Burkland said. “We are also flowing pretty well as a team and we are all pushing hard for the next year.”
However, Burkland understands the process to a Paralympic Games gold medal will not be easy.
“The biggest challenge that I believe myself and my team will have is implementing the new changes our coach is making to our play,” Burkland said. “Sometimes change is hard and you have to try extra hard to make sure your play is changing to the more productive way. With the hard work myself and the team put in every training camp, I am very confident that we will be able to make the changes we need to carry ourselves to the top.”