By Steve Foley (231) 439-9343 email@example.com
2:42 AM PST, February 1, 2013
The box jump.
A simple enough plyometric exercise designed to blast your lower-body strength and explosiveness.
Standing in an athletic position with feet about shoulder-width apart and at a comfortable distance away from a box — some of which can measure up to three feet or above — one squats quickly, extends the hips, swings the arms and pushes the feet through the floor, or in Erin (Fralick) Luckhardt’s case the ground to propel yourself onto the top of the box.
Good box jump technique typically states one shouldn’t simply “stick” the landing, but rather envision the way cats land when they jump from something.
Luckhardt not only could stick a solid landing doing that simple exercise, but she also envisioned herself rising above and beyond all the competition on the court or on the track through those box jump workouts.
And boy did she ever.
Luckhardt’s father and former Petoskey High School girls’ track coach Mark Fralick said his daughter performed countless box jumps in the yard under his careful watch, and at certain times she would count out “One, All-American; two, All-American; three, All-American.”
True to form, she knew then what she was talking about.
Luckhardt, a 2002 Petoskey High School graduate, went on to become just that, an American Volleyball Coaches Association first-team All-American volleyball player at Alma College and a standout middle hitter/blocker for the Scots, where she also was named the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s Most Valuable Player her senior year.
On Friday, Feb. 8, at the Petoskey High School gym during halftime of the Petoskey boys’ basketball game against Traverse City West, Luckhardt, 28, will be inducted in the Petoskey High School Athletic Hall of Fame along with other inductee Harry Compton.
The youngest of the 33-member Hall of Fame, Luckhardt earned 10 varsity letters in track (four), basketball (three) and volleyball (three) and also earned Class B All-State honors in all three sports throughout her stellar career from 1998-2002.
“To follow Michelle Welch (Hall of Fame Class of 2011), it’s kind of humbling because there’s such a great group of fantastic and amazing athletes and people throughout the history of Petoskey athletics, so it’s definitely humbling,” Luckhardt said.
“My dad always said when you get the awards, that’s cool, but when you don’t that’s OK too,” Luckhardt added. “This just kind of blows me away.”
For someone who quit volleyball halfway through her freshman season at a junior college, Luckhardt — now a wife, mother, teacher and coach to go along with being a former All-American — not only blew away records at Alma College, but also walked away with a lifetime of memories and valuable lessons she uses today.
“Really it was all about sports growing up for me and I think it’s really valuable as far as lessons about teamwork, staying motivated and having a focus or goal on something.
“That has helped me in the rest of my life as well.”
Luckhardt dabbled in a variety of sports before she entered high school including gymnastics, soccer and basketball.
As a third-grader when most girls’ didn’t start youth basketball until the fourth grade, Luckhardt recalls her first day of Saturday morning basketball which was run by her eventual high school varsity coach Matt Tamm.
“They were doing left-handed lay ups that day and I remember going home and we had those Jordan Jammers set up upstairs,” Luckhardt said. “I just remember shooting left-handed lay ups over and over upstairs because that’s what they worked on that day.”
Years later, Luckhardt’s father spent a lot of time at the Tamm residence helping on a remodeling project, where Luckhardt spent the majority of a summer absorbing anything and everything Matt and wife, Cindy Okerlund, had to offer.
“I’d go over there almost every day,” Luckhardt said. “Matt would go over basketball with me and I would just admire that. I do a lot of the same things Matt Tamm does when he coached me today. Just the way he approaches things and the way he encourages athletes to be thinkers.”
Luckhardt also recalls Okerlund, who played college basketball at Central Michigan University, informing her she should try to play against boys because that was where the toughest competition was.
“She (Okerlund) said she used to play against boys growing up,” Luckhardt said. “I’ve always appreciated Matt and Cindy’s presence in my life, they’ve been strong role models about not only being a good person, but being a good coach and to be a strong athlete as well.”
Luckhardt’s other role model growing up was her older brother, Gavin, who was three years older and standout football player with the Northmen himself.
“I remember going to all of my brother’s games and Little League games and going to other sports when my dad was coaching,” Luckhardt said. “It’s always something that I’ve loved and in fact my daughter’s (Liza) first word was ball.”
It was Gavin — along with the urging of her father — who first introduced Luckhardt to the Petoskey High School weight room.
It would be a place Luckhardt grew very familiar with.
“Gavin always included me and I always felt very fortunate,” Luckhardt said. “We’d go work out together or he’d invite me to come and he’d show me around.”
A freshman when her brother was a senior, Luckhardt said ultimately it was that off-season training in the weight room that really helped her develop throughout her high school career.
Luckhardt’s brother who went on to have a successful career at Alma College in football, said it wasn’t all entirely his urging which got his younger sister better throughout high school.
“She played three sports and the summer she committed to AAU for basketball and volleyball and she’d go to clinics and camps,” Fralick said. “It’s that stuff she would do to help her get to where she wanted to be, but she’s also just a really strong competitor and that fueled her off-the-field work to be good.”
It also helps to be intelligent, be a good listener and to be extremely coachable, as Tamm, a former Petoskey girls’ basketball coach explained.
“She’s Patty and Mark Fralick’s daughter and that alone speaks volumes to me,” Tamm said. “They are high quality individuals and she’s in the same mold, hard working and dedicated. I think those disciplines she learned from her parents carried over into athletics.
“She had some natural ability and she came to play every day,” Tamm added. “Whether it was practice or games, she continued to look to prove herself.”
That’s exactly what she did.
During her career at Petoskey, Luckhardt led the volleyball team to three Class B district championships, she was on the record-setting 1999 basketball team which went 24-2 and earned the school’s first-ever Class B regional title and first district title in five years.
In track and field, Luckhardt was a lone Petoskey girl qualifier as a senior in high jump, but also teamed with Kate Hutchens, Erin Sarki and Jenny Wright in the state qualifying 800-meter relay team.
She’s currently sixth on the school’s all-time scoring list in girls’ basketball with 735 career points, and still holds the single-game scoring record (34 points).
However, it would be in volleyball where Luckhardt found her niche.
“We always had a lot of success in our district and in regionals, my senior year, we won and got to play in a regional final where I’d play against girls’ I’d eventually play the next year in college,” Luckhardt said. “I just remember in high school we weren’t super athletic, but everybody was really smart on the team. We might not be able to slam the ball, but we could place it anywhere and our intelligence off the court led to success on it.”
That it did.
As a dominating front row player and Petoskey’s middle hitter/blocker, Luckhardt finished with 365 career solo blocks and 1,446 career kills.
“She could hit the ball on our opponent’s attack line and when we ran the Back 2 ‘Z’ play, she was absolutely amazing amassing kill after kill,” former Petoskey High School volleyball coach Edie LaVictor said. “She’s been a great team player and a great role model for the younger players in our program. Hard working, commitment, determination and desire all are words to describe her.”
Luckhardt’s hitting percentage was .360 and she had 5.47 kills per game, passed at 85 percent, had 303 digs and served at 91 percent with 60 aces her senior season.
In that senior season, Luckhardt guided the Northmen to a 45-13-9 record, district title and berth in a regional final. She was on the Class B All-Region team, Region All-Area Dream Team, Big North All-Conference first-team and broke a school record with single season kills, 739, and career kills, 1,446. Her career block solos totalled 365, also a school record at the time, while her near 4.0 grade point average saw her earn an All-State Academic Individual award.
“She made time to be in the weight room and also did plyometric training in the gym,” LaVictor said. “She made time to play beach volleyball in the summer along with her other sport obligations. She attended the Petoskey Volleyball Camp. She worked hard in the off-season as well as in season.
“She had great chemistry with our team’s setter, Marie O’Brien, and the two of them were in sync with each other,” LaVictor added. “Erin could hit the quick attack, the slide attack, and the back two attack. She had great teammates who could pass the ball effectively to target, and you know the saying, if you can’t pass, you can’t pound.
“It was a great team.”
LaVictor also recalls blocking drills with Luckhardt, where she’d stand on a chair and hit the ball and Luckhardt would practice her footwork to the left and right, then come to the middle to block her coaches attack.
“The ball would hit me in the face many times,” LaVictor said. “I was glad for that because she was successful and we’d enjoy the workout.”
After graduating in 2002 from Petoskey, Luckhardt attended St. Clair Community College in Port Huron where she joined the volleyball team.
She wasn’t there for long.
“I hated it and quit volleyball halfway through the season,” Luckhardt said. “They (St. Clair) had a great program and a great coach with a lot of connections, but it was just an awful experience for me.”
During her time at St. Clair, Luckhardt would often travel over to Alma to attend her brother’s football games and to also see her now sister-in-law, Kristy (Kanine) Fralick, who before marrying Gavin in 2004 had dated since their sophomore year in high school.
“He (Gavin) said I should just check out the volleyball program,” Luckhardt said. “In high school I really wanted to go to a Division I or Division II school and junior college was a launching pad experience for that, but after that experience I didn’t think I wanted to do that.”
Luckhardt attended a practice, liked what she saw in the team and transferred.
“Coming out of high school, I didn’t want to go there (Alma) because I was Fralick’s little sister,” Luckhardt said. “I loved my brother, but I didn’t want to be the person who just followed in his footsteps. I felt like at Alma, he really defined himself in football, but ultimately I had a lot of friends and connections at Alma.
“I felt I was able to create my own identity.”
Did she ever.
Joining the team as a sophomore, she entered the starting lineup of the defending MIAA co-champion and first-year coach Steve Humm and joined a group of juniors that would take Alma to unbelievable heights.
“I would’ve loved to be in coach Humm’s office when she came over,” Luckhardt’s father Mark Fralick said. “They were a great team and they were just missing someone in the middle. Erin was the lone sophomore on the team, nobody else was recruited. Everything was pretty much complete.”
Luckhardt helped the Scots win three straight conference titles, make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years and earned the program’s first-ever national ranking. Their 33-match win streak to start the 2004 season was one of the longest in Division III history.
As a lone senior, Luckhardt earned first-team All-American honors for the first time in any sport at Alma since 1991, racked up the second-most blocks, 391, in school history in just three seasons and her 459 kills her senior year were the second-best total ever, while she broke her own record for hitting percentage, .421, despite almost constant double-teaming by opponents.
“She was the missing piece of the puzzle, that missing presence in the middle,” Humm told the Morning Sun newspaper. “You just get lucky sometimes. It took me one practice to see that she’d be something special, but to envision first-time All-American, I don’t know.”
But Luckhardt knew, even if she had to convince her coach, her parents, family, friends an opponents otherwise.
“She’s just a natural leader,” Humm said. “It was so huge to have a kid like on this team, a leader-type kid, especially because the other returning starter was pretty quiet.”
When all was said and done at Alma, Luckhardt left as one of the Scots’ all-time best. She ranked 10th nationally in hitting percentage with a .422 overall mark her senior year, averaged 4.17 kills per game to go along with a total of 110 blocks and capped her career by ranking in the top 10 in nearly every statistical category in Alma history.
“A lot that wasn’t possible without the help of my teammates and the coaches that I had,” Luckhardt said. “Some of my teammates from Alma will be up for the ceremony and I just think that’s a huge piece. I’m still in touch with a lot of girls I played in high school and in college with and that’s just a valuable part of athletics, having lifelong friendships.
“Nothing is possible without them.”
Mark Fralick added it was really Gavin’s success that drove his daughter while playing for the Maroon and Cream.
“She’s her own individual, but she saw what he had done there and that was something she wanted to do for herself,” Mark Fralick added. “I’m proud of both of my kids and I’m pleased that other people recognized that too.”
Still in the game
Now an eighth-grade U.S. history teacher in Boyne City, much like her father and brother (“It gives us something to talk about at Thanksgiving,” Mark Fralick quipped), Luckhardt married her husband, Jon, in 2010 and moved back to Petoskey that same year.
Prior to moving back to the area, Luckhardt coached volleyball in Williamston where her team won a district title her second year.
“I was really lucky, we had a great gym, great booster program and it was our first district there in probably 20 years,” Luckhardt said. “We lost in the regional finals to DeWitt, but it was an awesome experience and I still stay in touch with most those girls.”
Now, Luckhardt coaches AAU volleyball for a seventh-and-eighth grade team out of Boyne City.
“I love it, it’s a lot of fun,” Luckhardt said of coaching. “It’s awesome to live here and it’s such an awesome community to grow up in, but also to come back and raise a family. I feel really blessed to be here with my job, to be able to go to basketball and football games and have family nearby.”
Family has always been of utmost importance to Luckhardt, as she recalls her grandparents, Sam and Eloise Fralick, making long-distant trips to follow her throughout high school and college.
“They were the most super fans, most dedicated,” Luckhardt said. “They’d come to everything in high school and almost everything in college. They’d be our only fans in a tournament in Kentucky on weekends. I’ve always been grateful with how supportive they’ve been.”
Her sister-in-law Kristy, who was a senior when Luckhardt was a freshman in high school, is also someone who’s been at her side for many years.
“I just remember her when I was in middle school and she was in the third grade,” Kristy Fralick said. “She was the tall and gangly kid that would play anything and she was always hard-working and competitive. I’ve always kind of considered her like a little sister. Our families are good friends and we went on vacations growing up.”
Kristy Kanine also received a long letter from her future sister-in-law after Luckhardt’s sophomore year, when she decided to wear Kristy’s No. 32 in basketball.
“She wrote about being part of the team and playing with me and how proud she was to wear No. 32,” Kristy Kanine said. “She said she’d put it to good use. She definitely did.”
Both her former high school basketball and volleyball coaches agreed, when Luckhardt played, you could see the fire in her eyes.
Her older brother saw it too.
“It’s great to see her get this type of recognition,” Gavin Fralick said. “I know how much time she spent into her athletic career and it’s great to see her get rewarded for all her hard work.”
Looking back, it all goes back to those days in the yard with the box jumps, where Luckhardt’s father would sit on the box and monitor her workouts.
“That was a big focus and a big thing for him to get athletes more focused,” Gavin Fralick said of off-season workouts. “If you want to get better, this was what you needed to do, but if you didn’t that was OK too. He’d show you what it took to get better and any time you have someone at home that can give you feedback and coaching, that can only make you better.”
Tamm, who’s coached a number of strong players throughout his coaching career at Petoskey, said he’s not at all surprised by what Luckhardt has been able to achieve.
“I think she probably could’ve played in Division I or Division II, but I know she wanted to go to Alma to get a quality education and to play volleyball,” Tamm said. “She’s intelligent, listens well and has a solid work ethic. The sky’s the limit for those people.
“I’ve known her since she’s been a baby,” Tamm added.
“Now, she’s a fine young lady with a baby.”