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ALL-AREA VOLLEYBALL: Swim or spike, Kelley will thrive
READ MORE: Volleyball All-Area Capsules.
Hope Kelley’s road to volleyball stardom started when she gave up her first love—synchronized swimming.
She didn’t have much choice when her family moved from Arizona to Virginia, which isn’t exactly a hotbed for water ballet.
“There was no synchronized swimming close enough, so I just focused all my time and energy into volleyball,” said Kelley, Colonial Forge’s senior outside hitter.
Kelley is glad she did, even though her love for swimming hasn’t waned. She excelled at volleyball with the Eagles, helping lead them to the region playoffs in each of the last four years while also earning a full Division I scholarship to University of the Incarnate Word in the process.
Kelley finished her high school career with a stellar senior season, during which she recorded 282 kills, 153 defensive digs and 22 solo blocks. For her strong play, Kelley was named The Free Lance–Star’s All-Area volleyball player of the year.
Her powerful hits from the left side were only part of the value the 6-foot-1 Kelley brought to Colonial Forge’s team.
“She was just a much more solid all-around player,” said Eagles coach Keith Mesa, the All-Area volleyball coach of the year. “Most people watch Hope and it’s a lot of seeing her hit the ball and going, ‘Woooo,’ but Hope was a very good all-around kid. She was a good server. She was one of our top two passers. At the outside hitter position, she was third in digs, and of course she led us in kills.”
Kelley’s success this season had as much to do with her mental game as it did her physical ability on the court.
In past seasons, frustration sometimes got the better of Kelley, especially when the Eagles were playing strong blocking teams like Massaponax and Brooke Point. She was much better this season at putting disappointment behind her and focusing on the next play.
“I think she matured a lot as a player, mentally as much as physically, and I think that was a big part of it,” Mesa said. “She did not break down when things didn’t go her way.”
That improved concentration of interest on the court led to more aggressive play from the powerful hitter.
“I think it all led to one another, and once I started staying focused and started being a leader, I started being more aggressive, and I just got really confident on the court,” Kelley said.
Kelley’s confidence has been a work in progress since she picked up volleyball at the age of 12.
Admittedly, she wasn’t very good when she first tried out for a club team in Arizona. In fact, she didn’t even make the starting roster.
But her parents continued to encourage her, and Kelley built up her skill through playing essentially every position on the floor.
She eventually settled in at outside hitter after realizing how hard she could hit.
“I was 14, and I distinctly remember being at practice one day, and I just went up and hit this ball, and it was really aggressive,” Kelley said. “It kind of started the way I started swinging so hard.”
That hard swing was on full display this season in wins over Riverbend (18 kills), Massaponax (20) and Forest Park (24) in the regular-season finale that clinched the Eagles’ Conference 4 championship.
“The left side position is a ball control position. You’ve got to be able to play defense and pass, too, so to have a kid out there who can take that many swings at that size is pretty imposing,” Mesa said.
Kelley, who was born in Dallas, Texas, will return to the Lone Star State in July when she reports to Incarnate Word in San Antonio.
The school, which made the move this year to the Division I Southland Conference, will give Kelley the opportunity to play volleyball on a full scholarship, but it also may allow her to seek out one of her other passions.
UIW is one of only five schools in the country that fields a synchronized swimming team.
“My hope is to play volleyball and then also be a synchronized swimmer,” Kelley said. “I’m hoping that would happen.”
Kelley is one of the most uniquely gifted two-sport athletes around. If there were an all-area synchronized swimming team, she’d have no competition for player of the year.
Alas, her volleyball award will have to do.
“The biggest thing was the mentality of always being aggressive,” Mesa said. “Even the match we lost against Forest Park in the region semifinals, she wasn’t taking shots off and she went out swinging.”
Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442