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Free Lance-Star All-Area: Volleyball player of year




When Katrina Houston played for North Stafford’s volleyball team as a sophomore, the empty bleachers were impossible to ignore.

The Wolverines were coming off a winless season, and few wanted to watch their struggles continue.

“You’d look up there and it would pretty much just be the parents,” Houston said.

But last year, Houston and the Wolverines realized they finally had the potential to do something special.

They just had to convince their classmates and teachers.

Sometimes, Houston said, the Wolverines would give fans money to pay for their admission to games. It was an investment to build enthusiasm.

“We’d literally say, ‘Here’s a couple of dollars so you’ll come watch tonight,” Houston said with a chuckle.

It did not take long for those fans to become intrigued, and it did not take long for word to spread through the halls of North Stafford like teenage gossip: The Wolverines were powerful, talented and a lot of fun to watch.

This season the stands were often packed with fans, including a loud and energetic student section.

And with Houston, The Free Lance–Star’s player of the year, leading the way, North Stafford claimed its first-ever district title.

“I think we’ve really left a legacy for the girls coming after us,” Houston said.

And North Stafford could not have done it without Houston, the team’s powerful and athletic senior.

The all-Region I selection was also named the Commonwealth District’s player of the year after tallying 325 kills.

But her volleyball education was surprisingly not extensive.

She did not begin playing the sport until she was in eighth grade, when she joined a travel team but was relegated to the practice squad, unable to actually travel.

Houston also joined North Stafford’s junior varsity team as a freshman.

“She started out pretty raw,” North Stafford coach Dan Jones said. “She’d have moments where you’d sit in amazement, but starting out, those were few and far between.”

Her athleticism was undeniable, however, and coaches knew that if she worked on the game’s finer points, she would thrive.

Houston had played basketball for many years, and she translated the skills from that sport onto the volleyball court.

Her jumping ability helped her at the net. Her ability to move laterally, as if guarding a ball-handler, helped her get in position for a dig.

“In basketball you’ve got to move your feet like 90 mph,” Houston said.

Houston’s power at the net was evident early on. When she timed her jump and her swat just right, it was nearly impossible for an opponent to keep up.

“Sometimes people on the other team say they’re kind of scared of me,” said Houston, who has committed to play for Charleston Southern next year.

When North Stafford defeated powerful Colonial Forge during the regular season last year, it was clear that the culture of the program was shifting.

And this year, the Wolverines dominated from start to finish, with Houston leading the way.

“She developed offensively into a player that could get the job done in a lot of ways,” Jones said. “She played most of her matches at a level most kids aren’t able to attain.”

Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442