High school volleyball: Falling in Love with Catawba

Published 12:01 am Sunday, February 27, 2022

By Mike London


MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan volleyball coach Jan Dowling has a weightlifting class first period.

That’s a free period for West senior Kelcie Love, who takes several Rowan-Cabarrus Community College classes, and she could be snoozing.

But Love always shows up to work out with Dowling’s early class, just like she was actually enrolled.  It gives Love a chance to push the weights around and it also gives her a chance to push teammates Emma Clarke and Anna Blackledge, who will be counted on as leaders for West volleyball next fall.

“Kelcie’s not in my class, but she’s always there, and I love having her,” Dowling said. “Our young kids look up to her. She gets after it.”

The 5-foot-10 Love will continue to get after it in college at Catawba.

South Piedmont Conference Player of the Year and Rowan County Co-Player of the Year, she signed with the Indians last week. She plans to compete in traditional indoor volleyball, as well as in beach volleyball, a new Catawba program that completed its first competitive season in June.

“The chance to play beach volleyball was a major part of my decision,” Love said. “Not a lot of Division II schools have it.”

Love was introduced to volleyball as a fifth-grader. Her friends were playing, so she got involved.

In middle school, she started to figure out that volleyball was her best sport. Softball and basketball hadn’t gone well.

Back in the fall of 2019, Love was the only freshman to be kept on West’s varsity team. That gave her a chance to learn from experienced players such as Tori Hester and Carly Stiller. She contributed 52 kills that season.

Love’s sophomore season was the one in which the Falcons were really special and went 28-1. Hester and Stiller were seniors.  Love made a nice jump to 136 kills.

Between her sophomore and junior years, Love made a serious commitment to volleyball. She switched to a higher-level club team in Charlotte, and has been all-in with the sport ever since.

“I had started to see I had a chance to play college volleyball,” Love said. “But I also played with teammates like Tori Hester and KK Dowling and I got to see the verticals that they had. I knew I  had to get better. I had to get slimmer and I had to get stronger. So I worked out a lot and I ran a lot. I started transforming my body.”

She got in great shape through team workouts, plus extra individual workouts. Noticeably leaner and springier,  she stood out for the Falcons during her COVID-shortened junior season. West still had KK Dowling as the leader, but Love paced the Falcons in blocks and was second on the team in kills.

As a senior captain, with KK Dowling no longer in uniform, Love knew she had to take on a dominant role if the Falcons were going to stay on top in the county and in a new league.

After all, she was the second-tallest player and the most experienced player.

She delivered.  She led West to a 27-3 season, a 14-0 record in the SPC and three playoff victories. She sparked the Falcons with a team-leading 304 kills.

“She’s never going to be rowdy on the court, but she was really consistent for us her senior season,” Coach Dowling said. “She played with a quiet confidence, and her teammates fed off of that. She always answered the call in the toughest matches. Hands down, she was our go-to girl. She was a terminating factor in the middle, but she was versatile. She also played some outside and right side for us.”

Love had a 44.8 kill percentage, so she was a very high-percentage option for setter Noe Gaeta.

Besides the kills, Love added 57 blocks, 34 aces and 88 digs.

Love is humble. She hadn’t considered the possibility of being a player of the year until Dowling gave her the news after the Falcons played their last game.

“That surprised me,” Love said. “But it does give you confidence.”

In normal times, Love probably would have been a college commit before her senior year started, but COVID wiped out the club tournaments and scouting opportunities her junior season when a lot of recruiting gets done.

Following her senior season, she did make a number of recruiting trips. She checked out Erskine, Lees-McRae and Emory & Henry, among others.

“I was making all these recruiting trips to D-II schools three of four hours away, and that’s when I started realizing what a homebody I was,” Love said. “Catawba has a lot to offer, and it’s a place where my parents and my friends can come watch me play.”

She’s into it. She practices with her club team three or four times a week.

“School and volleyball,” Love said. “That’s about 95 percent of my life right now.”

Her academic interest is in health science, so Catawba will be a good fit academically.

“She’ll be good for Catawba,” Dowling said. “Everyone asks me how we keep winning volleyball matches at West, and, honestly, it’s just our kids. We have great, hard-working kids. Kelcie has been one of the hardest-working and one of the best.”