2018 Recruiting Recap: Offensive Linemen

Nicholas Petit-Frere was drafted in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans
Petit-Frere, a former top recruit in the Class of 2018, started 16 games as a rookie for the Tennessee Titans in 2022.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 NFL Draft recap

Nick Herbig OLB-Pittsburgh Steelers
Wisconsin OLB Nick Herbig was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 132nd overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
September 27, 2023

Draftnasty Magazine

Your #1 authority for year-round draft coverage

McKinnon opening doors while on el ataque

15 min read
Rya McKinnon, Outside setter-Howard

Howard's Rya McKinnon led the MEAC in points per set in 2022 and looks to repeat as MEAC Volleyball Player of the Year in 2023.

When it comes to the nation’s best women’s volleyball stars, there are few as explosive and steady as 2022 MEAC Player of the Year Rya McKinnon. McKinnon, a rising sophomore, took the conference and nation by storm in her debut campaign, also grabbing MEAC Freshman of the Year honors in the process.

Heading into 2023, Howard added an All-American setter, a DMV libero and two middle blockers in its freshman class a year after landing McKinnon. Head coach Shaun Kupferberg’s team is set to once again challenge for the MEAC women’s volleyball crown and no player ranks as more important than the former all-state standout from Hoover High School (Ala.).


Some of the biggest outside hitters in women’s volleyball history are also among the most dominant. China’s Zhu Ting is often referred to as one of the greatest outside hitters in women’s volleyball, but South Korea’s 34-year old Kim Yeon-koung has recently gotten acclaim for that title. At 6’3 1/2”, she often towers over the competition from the left side of the floor.

However, there are several volleyball greats that have excelled at under the 6-foot criteria for women’s outside hitters. That list includes an all-time great in Cuba’s Mireya Luis, a three-time Gold medalist who stood just 5-foot-9. Like McKinnon, she began playing volleyball around the age of 10 years old and eventually reached a maximum height of 11’1” on her momentous leaps. An amazing superstar, the Hall of Famer’s highlights are certainly worth the watch.

Getting off the floor also ranks as the strength of McKinnon’s game. At 5-foot-11, the Bison standout routinely uses her prodigious leaping skill to outmaneuver opponents. By her own admission, it may have all started by accident in the third grade.

“Growing up, I did soccer and gymnastics. And… I was really into gymnastics, but I kind of had to quit because I was too tall,” McKinnon said matter of factly. “Which is kind of funny because like now in volleyball, I’m not even like known as a tall player.”

“But then, I really got into volleyball because I saw my cousin play. And..just like, from there my Mom (LaShana) put me into it and I just started playing. Think it started when I was in third grade, I did YMCA and Rec League. I did Club (volleyball) and then I realized I could go somewhere with this. So then I just started focusing on it.”

While her height provided a slight advantage at the high school level, it could be considered borderline for some Power Five schools during the recruiting process. In fact, it is something that the 2020-21 Gatorade Alabama Volleyball Player of the Year acknowledged when discussing the schools that showed interest.

“I think height did play a huge factor. I know a lot of these Power 5 schools, their outside (hitter) height is around like 6’1 or six-foot, at least,” McKinnon discussed. “I did get offers to a few Power Five schools, but I think I could have definitely gotten way more if I was a little bit taller.”

“My decision to go to Howard, I feel like was a great decision for me. I used to be committed to the University of Louisville, originally. But then I opened back up my recruiting and I found Howard. And I just went with it.”

In McKinnon, the school secured one of the nation’s true hidden gems. With an approach jump of 10’2″ coming out of high school, it covers up any height deficiencies.

“I feel like I get away with not being that tall because I can jump way higher, so that kind of compensates for the height.”

When asked if those numbers have improved since arriving on campus, she admitted reluctantly that, “My approach jump is still 10’2”. I think my vertical…I just jumped, is like 40 inches.”

Of course in volleyball, there is a standing vertical jump and maximum vertical jump. Her maximum vertical jump of 40 inches ranks as one of the better marks in all of college women’s volleyball.

“Yes, it does come in handy,” McKinnon said (with a chuckle).

To Howard’s opponents, her leaping exploits are no laughing matter.

Consider this.

Her standing reach of 92 inches (7’8″) lays credence to her wingspan and often offsets the 5-foot-10-inch or 5-foot-11-inch height.

And how has that standing reach benefited her on the floor?

“Since I’m playing with people that are much taller than me, you have to hit high off their hands,” McKinnon said. “So to be able to reach and attack the ball at its highest point, it has allowed me to score more points against people that are way taller than me.”

In 2022, McKinnon led Howard with 283 kills and finished 17 matches with double-digit kills. In fact, she recorded double-digit kills in her last eight matches.

The last volleyball player to pull off the MEAC double as Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year?

In 2002, Maryland Eastern Shore’s Jana Milin -a MEAC Hall of Famer- pulled off the feat. The 5-foot-10 Croatian-born star finished her career with 1,794 Kills, good for first all-time in the MEAC.

Rya McKinnon-2022 MEAC Rookie of the Year
Howard’s Rya McKinnon not only won the 2022 MEAC Player of the Year Award, she was the first player to double as MEAC Rookie of the Year since Maryland Eastern Shore’s Jana Milin in 2002.

“I was honestly not too familiar with her,” McKinnon offered. “But knowing that she was the last person to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year in the same year, and for me to do the same thing with her being a Hall of Famer, it just makes me feel really honored because I also hope to be in the Hall of Fame one day.”


If 2022 was any indication, then she is well on her way. McKinnon’s hitting percentage was among the best in the MEAC and she led the conference in points per set. While the team relied on her heavily, the contributions of others did not go unnoticed. The 2022 MEAC Co-Setter of the Year was the Bison’s Kayla Diaz, a six-time MEAC Setter of the Week Award winner. Diaz returns as a graduate student in 2023 and the 2023 Preseason MEAC Player of the Year certainly appreciates her veteran presence.

“Kayla was a senior, it was her fourth year being there. So for her to have some experience and for her to be my setter, I loved it,” McKinnon said glowingly.

Having a player with the experience of Diaz helped with the adjustment to the collegiate level, but she admitted that there was still an adaptation period after arriving on campus.

The team’s competitive environment during practice helped her acclimation.

“Coming from high school to college, it really was like a big change,” the former gymnastics prodigy admitted. ”The speed of the game was way different. The people you’re playing against were way older and all that stuff. I’m not going to lie, at the beginning of the year (2022) I did struggle a little bit with hitting, because in high school I was just so used to hitting like straight down. Because I was a little bit taller than most of the people. When I went to college, me and my coach just really worked on trying to hit high hands and move the ball around to score.”

As an outside hitter, McKinnon typically receives the most sets within the team’s offense. If the setter is out of system (meaning she cannot play the second ball or only has a single setting option), then someone other than the setter must make the second contact.

This generally means the team is much less effective if they operate out-of-system due to poor or inaccurate sets. The offense becomes inefficient and McKinnon now has to potentially face multiple blockers as opposed to just one at the net.

It is something that is not lost on the team’s most productive scorer.

“I feel like outside hitting, the position is pretty difficult, because you really just kind of get the jump balls,” McKinnon explained. “You’ll just get any out-of-system ball and you’re just expected to try to score or put it back into the court.”

Scoring, however, is not the only job of the outside hitter. She is also expected to pass and serve receive with equal effectiveness.

“I always try to work on serve receive and passing, because I feel like that’s the most important part of the game,” the 2020-21 Gatorade Alabama Volleyball Player of the Year said. “That’s like literally how you get on the court. If you pass well, you’re going to be on the court. So that was a huge focus of mine during the season.”

McKinnon’s middle back defense and left defense also serve as two of her biggest responsibilities as an outside hitter. Along with her blocking, these aspects have provided equal unique challenges.

“For defense, it was a different defense that I was used to running,” said McKinnon. “In high school, I normally played left back. In college, I’m playing middle back. So it’s definitely something different that I had to learn because I’m covering more ground in middle back than I would at left back.”

Admittedly, she acknowledges that there is still work to be done in the blocking aspect of her game. This despite a block jump point that measures 115 inches (9’7”).

“I’m working on my blocking, I’m not gonna lie,” McKinnon offered. “It’s kind of hard to block through the tall people, but I’m trying.”


The unreachable heights have rarely blocked her from achieving individual goals. She received some 2022 AVCA All-American honorable mention notice and at some point the United States women’s volleyball team could be yet another mountain to climb.

The team has come up short a number of times in its attempts to win an Olympic gold medal. Three times the unit has lost in the Olympic finals (1984, 2008, 2012). But in the 2020 Olympic Games, the US women’s volleyball team finally secured its long, sought-after gold medal by defeating Brazil 3-0.

Four African-American women were on that 2020 United States women’s volleyball squad, including 6-foot-4-inch opposite hitter Jordan Thompson. The three-time AAC Player of the Year (at Cincinnati) and two-time AVCA All-American led a group that included fellow African-Americans in middle blockers Chiaka Ogbogu, Haleigh Washington and Foluke Atinuke Gunderson.

McKinnon has studied the group and enjoys the painting being drawn by the quartet.

“Playing in the Olympics was always one of my goals and to see people like Jordan Thompson…she was like a huge role model for me,” McKinnon acknowledged. “To see people that look like me achieving goals that I want to achieve, that’s really a lot of motivation.”

Gunderson, in particular, provides a backdrop for many of McKinnon’s goals. The former Stanford All-American was born in London, Ontario (Canada) and was a four-time state champion in track and field at St. Thomas Aquinas High School (Fla.). Gunderson also won a silver medal in the 2012 London Olympic Games and a bronze in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games.

The Nigerian, Canadian and American tri-citizen’s aggressiveness and explosiveness impress the Bison’s star outside hitter.

“She’s very, very aggressive and very explosive…and very competitive, which I feel like are three main things that a volleyball player needs to have,” McKinnon said.

All of these women are following the footprints of former 6-foot-5-inch African American outside hitter Flo Hyman, who was a part of the 1984 US women’s volleyball squad that took home the silver medal at the Los Angeles Olympic Games. The three-time All-American at Houston was the nation’s first winner of the Broderick Award (now known as the Honda Sports Award).

Even the late Hyman, however, went to what is now known as a Power Five school (Houston) and each of the aforementioned quartet went to similar schools in Cincinnati, Stanford, Texas and Penn State.

In the age of NIL, other schools are inevitably eyeing a magnanimous star such as McKinnon. But she believes a pathway can be set for those that follow by keeping her feet set in the ground.

“I know that one of my main reasons I wanted to go to Howard is because I wanted to be somebody that black girls can look up to and be like, ‘Oh, you don’t have to go to a Power Five school to be great’,” McKinnon volunteered. “You can go to an HBCU and still be a great volleyball player…break records and do all this stuff. Going to an HBCU, you’re not going to get as many perks as going to a Power Five. I know a lot of these Power Five schools have great NIL deals. At an HBCU, you’re just gonna have to find it on your own. I love my decision to go to an HBCU and I feel like I probably would never leave. I will be here my whole four years.”

As far back as 2019-20, 62-percent of the Division I women’s volleyball players were caucasian. That number has since decreased from a 72-percent total in 2011-12.

The direct correlation has led to an increase in the number of black women’s volleyball coaches who have come along. Virginia Tech’s Marci Byers was named the school’s sixth head coach in January, 2020.

McKinnon is well aware of the hires.

“The University of Alabama, they just got a new black female head coach (Rashinda Reed in 2021), LSU just got a new black female head coach (Tonya Johnson in 2022),” McKinnon said proudly. “I love to see that. Just to see black women being able to step into that role and coach. To see a black female do that is great.”


Howard has been one of the leaders among MEAC programs in getting to the NCAA Tournament. Florida A&M and Alabama A&M rank among the best in the SWAC in all-time NCAA Tournament appearances.

Those numbers resonate with the MEAC superstar and it is clear that team goals remain at the top of her priority list.

“We, unfortunately did not make it to the NCAA Tournament last year (2022), because we did lose to Delaware State in conference,” McKinnon explained. “But, I know one of my goals is I wanna make it to the tournament. I want to win the conference. Those are two of my main goals being at Howard.”

As the team settled in down the stretch, they levied more responsibilities on her plate. She averaged 42 attacks over the last four games of the season.

And, much like a service error or service fault in tennis, attack errors are noted in volleyball.

“Personally for me, after an attack error, I really just swing harder on the next ball,” McKinnon said with a laugh. “Normally I don’t tip a lot, I like to swing. So If I get blocked or I hit it out (of bounds), then I just swing harder or try to place it (the ball).”

Rya McKinnon, Outside setter-Howard
McKinnon led the MEAC in points per set in 2022 and was recently named the 2023 MEAC Preseason Volleyball Player of the Year.

“I feel like the last half of the season was my best half of the season,” McKinnon concurred. “The Del (Delaware) State contest, however, was a pretty hard game. We were there at their home court, everybody from the school was there. It was their prime time. And I feel like we just didn’t get that much of a good start.”

The Bison’s 20-10 record in 2022 was nothing to sneeze at and included trips to New Orleans (La.), Fairfield (Conn.) and University Park (Md.). But no atmosphere gets McKinnon more hyped than playing in front of the home crowd at Burr’s Gymnasium (Howard’s home since 1963).

“My favorite games are the home games because of the crowd and atmosphere,” McKinnon said. “It’s just so much fun. I feel like the best place that we traveled to would be Penn State. But I did not get to play that much because at the beginning of the season I was injured with a shoulder. So I was out for the first two weeks of the season.”

Overcoming the injury was a big part of the growth process during her freshman campaign. And she credits a good part of that development to her coach, 10-year veteran Shaun Kupferberg.

“I feel like he just really tried to focus with me on being a leader and just always wanting me to be in the gym and stuff,” McKinnon described. “He really just hyper-focused on me being a leader. Me being a freshman (2022) and being on the court a lot, I did have to learn a lot about the team during the games and stuff.”

Kupferberg’s prior success played a part in McKinnon’s decision to choose Howard. Since arriving at Howard, the three-time MEAC Coach of the Year has led the Bison to five 20-win seasons and five consecutive conference titles (2015-2019).

“I know I wanted to go to a school with a successful volleyball team,” said McKinnon. “So for him to have experience winning the MEAC and making appearances in the NCAA Tournament, I just felt like I could trust him and trust his process more.”

The history of the MEAC and SWAC should provide a challenge for the Bison this season, as the two conferences have combined to win just three matches in its respective histories.

Winning a match in the NCAA Tournament is another goal at the top of McKinnon’s wish list.

“That would be huge. I feel like people don’t really expect HBCU’s to go into the NCAA Tournament and win games,” McKinnon opined. “That would probably make history, honestly.”


Howard has been one of the nation’s leaders in African-American undergraduates who go on to earn science and engineering doctoral degrees.

So it was no surprise that McKinnon -who came to the school as a National Honor Society and Spanish National Honor Society member- maintained over a 4.0 GPA through her high school years.

Science, coincidentally, is a part of her future plans. She plans on attacking academics with just as much force as she does on the court.

“Academics mean a lot to me. Coming to Howard, a really big academic school, because you are a student before you are an athlete,” McKinnon said. “At Howard, I’m majoring in computer science and I hope to go down the App (applications) development path.”


Her father, Ron McKinnon, was no slouch in his own right. The three-time NCAA Division II national champion was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008 after winning first-team All-American honors for three consecutive years (1993-95) at North Alabama. He went on to start 128 games for the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints in an ultra-productive NFL career that included over 1,000 tackles (1,011), 12 quarterback sacks, 70-plus tackles for losses, 12 forced fumbles, 10 interceptions (TD) and seven fumble recoveries (TD). Now a linebacker’s coach at Miles College, McKinnon was also inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.

Ron McKinnon is a college football Hall of Famer.
College football Hall of Famer Ron McKinnon -currently a linebacker’s coach at Miles College-finished his NFL career with a triple double: 10 interceptions (TD), 12 quarterback sacks, 12 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries (TD).

Despite all of her father’s accolades (and multiple videos of watching him play), the MEAC Volleyball Player of the Year was most concerned with communicating one important point when it comes to her father.

“I just know, I want to be better than my Dad,” said McKinnon in a serious tone while laughing. “He always made sure I worked hard and was in the gym doing extra reps. He is like a great role model and somebody I looked up to. He didn’t really go to the top school to be in the NFL. He went to UNA. Coming from D2 at the time and he still made a great career path for himself.”

Aside from her father, McKinnon looks up to a few other role models.

“My female athlete would definitely be Serena Williams,” McKinnon said. “She has done so much for the sport of tennis and to be black and set all these records, I really look up to her.”

“For volleyball, I feel like my number one player would probably be Jordan Thompson (mentioned earlier). She’s just a great athlete.”

For now, McKinnon is listing the role models, but it may not be long before she is on the other side of the list.

By forgoing opportunities at bigger schools to set up her kills in the MEAC, McKinnon is carving a path for those young girls she references relentlessly.

And in doing so, the former National Spanish Honor Society member has provided a foundation for their journeys.

Take on all phases of your life with equal parts aggressiveness while specializing in staying on…The Attack!

Or in Spanish, “El Ataque!”

OTHER NOTES (surrounding Article):

  • The Bison open their slate this Friday against Georgetown in the DC Invitational. The team squares off against George Mason on Saturday before concluding with a Sunday afternoon contest against George Mason that will air on ESPN PLUS at 2 pm (EST). All of the contests are set for the Burr Gymnasium (6 PM eastern) in Washington, D.C.
  • In December of 2021, the University of Alabama hired former Illinois assistant coach Rashinda Reed as its head women’s volleyball coach (https://www.si.com/college/alabama/bamacentral/rashinda-reed-announced-as-alabama-volleyball-head-coach). And former LSU volleyball star Tonya Johnson (.550 career winning percentage) was named LSU’s head women’s volleyball coach after serving as an associate head coach at Texas for eight seasons.

About Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *