When Mark Evans, coach of the Topeka Impact volleyball club’s 17-and-under team, started building his roster for 2012, he found three players from Lawrence that would prove to be key pieces of the Impact’s 10-player rotation.
The coach added Free State High’s Shelby Holmes and Katy Davis, as well as Veritas Christian’s Teri Huslig, to a group of Topeka high school players.
“It seems to have gelled into a pretty strong little team,” Evans said.
In fact, the Impact has finished no worse than fifth this year in three national-qualifying tournaments and went 10-0 to take first place at the Mid-East Qualifier in Indianapolis this past March.
This week the Impact heads to Columbus, Ohio, for the USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships (pool play begins Tuesday afternoon) as the No. 2 overall seed.
Not bad, considering this is the first year Holmes, Davis and Huslig have played with the club. Holmes, who recently verbally committed to play at Arkansas State University, is the Impact’s left-side hitter. Evans said she has a “cannon for an arm” and is one of the team’s go-to players who produces a lot of side outs.
According to her FSHS teammate, Holmes has been a crucial part of the team’s success, with her ability to pound the ball.
“She is like the fire,” Davis said. “She gets really pumped and wants to do whatever she can to help.”
When Evans approached Davis, a setter at Free State, about joining the team she initially turned him down, because she was interested in playing in a defensive role. But Evans desperately needed a setter and with a promise of a great team that would gain her exposure to college coaches, Davis reconsidered. Now Evans considers her the team’s quarterback and she handles play-calling responsibilities on the court.
While most of the team’s players, including Davis and Holmes, are rising seniors, Huslig will be a junior this fall. She played setter at Veritas, but she became a defensive player for the Impact and goes in the back row for some of the team’s big hitters.
At first, Huslig said, the change wasn’t easy, but she is glad she got accustomed to a different role.
“I think it’s been good,” she said, “because I can learn another position and I can bring more to the team.”
This year’s success has meant a lot to the trio of Lawrence players, because they have all known each other since they were in middle school. Holmes said Davis and Huslig work hard, but the three of them can joke around with each other, too, when the time is right.
“It’s been crazy to have two best friends and all these other girls who have been really supportive,” Holmes said.
The team has bonded well, Davis said, and that made their trip to Ohio possible.
“It’s really exciting,” Davis said, “because at the beginning of the season we made it our goal that we all wanted to get to nationals.”
Added Huslig: “Everybody on the team is so pumped and so excited.”
As the No. 2 seed at the championship tournament, Holmes said the Impact will arrive with high expectations. She has gone to the tournament before and seen firsthand the finals and the celebration that follows. She said finishing in the top three would be “huge” for the Impact, and there will be some pressure.
“I think it comes from not only the high seed but definitely wanting to do well,” Holmes said.
Davis said it will be awfully hard to finish on top at the national event.
“All the other teams that are seeded lower are anxious to take our second seed away from us,” she said.
However, Evans has coached club volleyball for 12 years and said his Impact team is legit.
“This year, out of all the teams I’ve had, I really feel good about this one,” the coach said.
And Davis, Holmes and Huslig are a big part of that.
“Those three kids right there,” Evans said, “we would not be as far as we are right now without those kids.”