It shouldn’t be any surprise that Burnsville’s Tori Dixon is one of the nation’s top middle blockers. After all, her father made a career out of it.
Of course, that was in the NFL, where her father, David Dixon, spent 12 years as an offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings before retiring in 2004. Thanks to her father, who is 6-foot-5, Tori has been blessed with good size (6-2) and athletic ability.
"Tori is a very good blocker, but her ace in the hole is her swing," said Burnsville coach Ryan Dehnel. "She is a good hitter when going off two feet and she is almost unstoppable when hitting a slide. Tori’s other big strength is serving. She has a good jump float and a solid jump topspin serve that she can switch between each time she goes back to serve."
As a junior, Dixon was an all-metro selection in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and was a first-team all-state pick. She had 463 kills, 100 blocks and 61 aces to lead the team.
"My size and strength are my biggest attributes," said Dixon. "They help a lot with specific volleyball skills. I am a lot taller and stronger than most players, which gives me an advantage. My best skills are definitely blocking and hitting."
As a senior, Dixon is off to an outstanding start for Burnsville (Minn.), which is 11-8 on the season. She has 300 kills on the year, including 53 in her last two games combined. She also leads the team in aces, with 40. She only has 13 blocks this season, but Dehnel says there is a reason for that.
"This year, we've moved her to the outside, which involves playing a lot more of the game than she's used to and she has been open to the challenge and worked hard to get comfortable with the different responsibilities," he said.
As a middle blocker, Dixon was good enough to be named to the USA Youth National Team, which played in Puerto Rico and took first place in the summer of 2008. A veteran of club play, as well, Dixon’s club team won the 17-1 AAU national tournament this summer and she was named tournament MVP.
While Dixon had the opportunity to play volleyball at the college level in Florida, she has decided to stay close to home and play for the Gophers at the University of Minnesota. Dixon, who received her first college recruiting letter when she was just 12 years old, committed to Minnesota prior to her sophomore year. She will sign her letter of intent in November.
"I am so excited to play D-1," she said. "It has always been my goal. I only have one more year to go."
While Dixon is looking forward to playing at the college level, she knows that she will miss playing high school volleyball.
"The best thing about playing high school volleyball is getting to play in front of your friends and classmates. When you play club the only people that watch are parents, the competition and scouts," she said. "In high school, families can come to check out the matches and people that can’t travel to watch the club matches can come see some volleyball. I have a lot of friends on my high school volleyball team that I can’t play with during the club season because we are separated by age, so it’s nice to be able to play with them during the high school season."
Dixon began playing volleyball in fifth grade and eventually joined the varsity team when she was 13.
"I was nervous in my first varsity game," said Dixon. "There was a big crowd at Prior Lake and I was really scared. I was 13 years old when I first started working out with the varsity players, and they all seemed so much older than I was. I was afraid I would make a mistake."
Mistakes have been rare for Dixon, who has developed into one of the best players in the nation. But Dehnel says that Dixon has never developed a superstar ego.
"Even though Tori has the talent to demand the spotlight and seek special treatment, she has never acted like she's any more important than anyone else on the team," he said. "Many superstar athletes, even in high school, act as though they should be held to different standards than the rest of the team. Tori has never done that here."
Dixon notes that her coaches have played a big role in her development. She credits Northern Lights coach Chad Becker with pushing her out of her comfort zone and Adam Beamer with helping her refine her skills.
"Coach Dehnel has taught me a lot about not just getting the job done, but working for the better of the team," she said. "Over the past two years he has really tried to show me how important the team as a whole is. It is important to be patient with the younger girls, and to work with them to improve our team."