At one time the roster included Kaleigh, Kayla and Katie; then there was Kayla and Katie; now it’s just Katie. The Oak Ridge High volleyball team’s run of terrific outside hitters whose names all start with the alphabet’s 11th letter is nearing the end with Katie Vaughn’s impending 2011 graduation.
The trio of current and future Division I college players is down to Vaughn, the Trojans’ only senior and a holdover from last year’s team whose postseason run ended with a third place in the NorCal tournament.
Vaughn is a veteran who played with both Kaleigh Durket (University of Santa Clara) and Kayla Berringer (University of North Carolina) on back-to-back Sac-Joaquin Section winning teams. Now it’s her leadership that will help dictate the success of this year’s team.
“It’s weird being the oldest and the only senior,” said Vaughn, who assumed that role once Kristen Burkland left the team. It’s definitely different than it’s been the past few years … it’s harder having lost so many seniors but hopefully we can make it into the playoffs and do well again.”
One asset Vaughn and the Trojans won’t have this time around is the element of surprise that worked so well last year. After playing in a Division II conference, Oak Ridge bumped up to D-1 for the playoffs and was an unknown, catching many of the teams off guard. And unlike last year’s team which had to defend Berringer pounding away on one side and Vaughn on the other, Vaughn will draw the opposition’s full attention, something she’s already noticed.
“Yeah, I do feel the focus from the other teams. I know they’ll always be blockers on the outside so I have to be extra careful when I hit,” Vaughn said. “I think teams are aware of who we are and that we’re a strong team. They’ll play their hardest but we’ll put up a fight.”
To adjust, Vaughn added wrinkles to her game and she doesn’t hesitate to win a point with a soft tip over the block in lieu of a powerful overhand spike, much the same way Durket and Berringer learned to do when they wore Trojan colors. Vaughn’s jump serve is also lethal.
“I loved having Kaleigh and Kayla as teammates — they taught me so much. It was nice to have someone to look up to and strive to be like,” Vaughn said. “They definitely made me a better player and I hope as captain, some of our younger girls see me that way.”
Vaughn shares captain duties with teammate Alexa Becker. Last summer they teamed up on the sand to win a Junior National Beach tournament at the Santa Cruz Beach/Boardwalk to qualify for the championships in Florida. They took seventh.
It’s hard to believe Vaughn has come so far in such a short time. She picked up volleyball in the sixth grade, the same time she started with the Force Volleyball Club, and played all three years at Rolling Hills Middle School before making her varsity debut as a freshman. Going into last week’s Senior Night, Vaughn had accumulated over 1,250 kills, 211 aces and 160 blocks in her Oak Ridge career with many matches left to play.
“I’ve known her for four years and she’s always been physically tough but her growth as a leader in those four years and in this season alone has impressed me more than anything,” Trojan coach Becky Potter said. “She’s a kind soul, a quiet force and a good role model for the girls on and off the court. Katie’s been that name for Oak Ridge volleyball — a big part of the program’s past success — and there’s not doubt she can lead us there this year.”
Vaughn earned all Sierra Valley Conference honors in both her sophomore and junior seasons and was a second-team All Metro selection last year. Tagged a Fab 25 underclassman and listed on several other player-to-watch lists, college offers poured in and most of the Pac-10 schools recruited her. She leaned one way until family persuasion and a visit to Brigham Young University in Utah shifted Vaughn in another direction.
“Growing up I had a goal of playing in the Pac-10 and originally wanted to go to the University of Arizona,” Vaughn said. “BYU was not my top option but my visit there changed everything. My mom said ‘Katie you should visit BYU,’ and I fell in love with the campus, coaches and the entire volleyball program. That’s when I knew I wanted to go there.”
“I’ll really miss Oak Ridge, it’s hard to leave because it’s been fun and great to play on a team that came so close to states (CIF State Championship tournament) and to play with players like Kaleigh and Kayla but at the same time it’s exciting to go to BYU,” Vaughn said.
When Vaughn, who accepted a full ride scholarship, initially discussed Brigham Young, she left out an important link and the sole reason why her mom Rochelle nudged her in that direction. Her oldest sister Allie is a sophomore there and another sister, Sarah, is a freshman high-jumper on the Cougar track and field team.
“My mom’s very happy we’ll all be together and so am I because we’re all best friends,” said Vaughn who has found the perfect situation: Close to family and the opportunity to play the sport she loves at the next level.
“She’ll be phenomenal at BYU and I think she can start as a freshman,” Potter said. “It’s the right fit. She’s been working for this and she’s ready.”
Get ready BYU fans, here comes Slamin’ Katie Vaughn.