Tanner Hoke Elevates Her Teammates With Sets and Positive Energy

The outside hitter jumps up to meet the net and smacks the ball right down the line. The crowd goes wild in awe. “Kill by CMS!” is blasted through the PA system and resounds across the gym. Her teammates join in and congratulate her on the amazing attack. Then the hoopla dies down, and they move on to the next play.

But they have forgotten to give key credit to the player who set her up for the swing. This player, who has sacrificed her own glory for the good of the team, is forgotten, less idolized—and yet, she is still happy.

“I set people up for success,” Tanner Hoke CM '16 said. “That’s what we [setters] do, and that’s why I like it. When my hitter is successful, I am successful, and that is my job.”

For the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps volleyball team (17-4, 8-1 SCIAC), Hoke amiably plays a role that isn’t as glorified as some other positions. Setters don’t often score points for the team, but they make up the core of the offense.

The job of a setter is like the work of a beating heart. A setter is required to be active and alert in the middle of every play. Every second the ball comes to her, she calls the plays and dictates the entire offense. She needs passers and hitters to complete the system, but without the setter there is no way to pump the energy and momentum into the flow of the game.

Hoke has done a good job so far at giving her team the opportunities to succeed, leading the Athenas with 442 assists. She is also fifth in service aces and fourth in digs.

But the journey didn’t come so easy for Hoke. As a first-year and sophomore, she had to battle with Hilary Bruegl CM ’14 for playing time at the setter position. Bruegl was honored on the All-SCIAC First Team her senior year, but had the same start to her career as Hoke: She also had to wait her turn.

“Hilary gave me a lot of confidence,” Hoke said. “Her story was really inspiring to me, and she really taught me a lot.”

This season Hoke is finally getting her opportunity to be a starter, with the support of her teammates and coaches. Head coach Kurt Vlasich noticed at the beginning of this season that she had really come prepared to run the Athenas' offense with eight new first-years.

“Right from day one, you could tell that she had been thinking about [our offense] all summer,” Vlasich said.

Hoke's task has also been made more difficult because of the large number of first-years and hitters to get to know, as well as different sets of individual preferences she must adjust to. Hoke says that the setter position comes with an unspoken leadership role on the team in which she is able to direct the offense and exchange feedback with her teammates.

While her teammates can count on Hoke for her leadership and selflessness, one thing that rises above everything else is her contagious positive attitude. Hoke wears a smile from ear to ear during a match and stays upbeat even when her team is down.

“She is easily the happiest kid on the team,” Vlasich said. “She’s always smiling, always talking and very respectful. You couldn’t ask for more in a person and a player.”

Teammate Audrey Breitwieser CM ’16 agreed. 

“Her ability to constantly have a positive attitude and a glowing smile is amazing,” Breitwieser said.

Hoke’s toothy grin comes from her pure love of the game and for her teammates. Once an avid youth soccer player in Honolulu, Hoke began playing volleyball in sixth grade and fell in love with it immediately. This passion, along with her love for her teammates, is what keeps her smiling on the court, Hoke says.

“My teammates definitely help,” Hoke said. “I love playing with these girls. You have to love the people you play with and want to play for them.”

Although Hoke stands below her teammates at just five-foot-six, her big heart raises her above the rest and aids in her role as “Mother Hen” to her friends and teammates. The eldest of three siblings, Hoke has always been one to look out for everyone else.

“Tanner is always the first to make sure you’re okay after an injury, ask how a midterm went or comfort you when you’re down,” Breitwieser said. “She is really the motherly figure on our team.”

Self-sacrificing like a parent and vital to the team’s production like a heart, Hoke—and her infectious smile—will propel the Athenas forward as they continue their race to the playoffs. CMS will take on University of La Verne (15-3, 7-2 SCIAC) today, Oct. 17, at 7:30 p.m. in Linde Activities Center.