CALLING ALL VOLLEYBALL FANS: Tonight’s Crowd Should be Tickled Pink by Kirby & Co.

October 20, 2010
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Katie Kirby

Katie Kirby

Killer Kirby! How could such a bright-eyed teenager be so deadly? Forget the ’27 Yankees. She constitutes her own murders’ row.

Just two days ago, she had 17 kills against Diamond Bar. In another match, she had 32 kills. Some of the balls she strikes with the palm of her lethal right hand exceed the California state speed limit. She’s a dynamo in volleyball shorts.

Then there’s that killer smile and those bangles of strawberry blonde hair that give her an almost Shirley Temple quality. But don’t let that fool you, she’s playing with a chip on her shoulder. She, along with senior setter Ashley Maxfeldt, lead a hit-squad of top players that won’t be satisfied until they’re crowned CIF Division 2 volleyball champions. Last year, they lost to Los Altos in the CIF Finals, whom they happen to be playing tonight. This evening’s showdown is called “Dig Pink” in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but this affair could quickly turn into a duck-and-cover shootout.

For Bonita to come out with a victory, Kirby will literally have to rise to the occasion, ascending over the net again and again, slamming the ball home without any hope of it being returned. Nobody in La Verne is betting against her.

It’s a bit strange that so much is riding on Kirby. She started out as a soccer player, and like some of those World Cup players who go crazy skidding half across the field on their knees when they score a goal, Kirby can also get quite animated inside the gym. She’s that way in practice, too. Early this season, she dove for a ball and practically knocked herself out, leaving practice with a slight headache. Usually, she’s the one delivering the headaches.

She’s used to the rough-and-tumble world of high school athletics, however, especially as the youngest of three sisters growing up in an athletic family. Kellyanne, Katie’s middle sister, was a two-time volleyball MVP at Bonita before earning a full scholarship to play volleyball at Cal State Fullerton.

“I like being the youngest,” Katie said about an hour after practice, looking as calm and relaxed as if she were ready for another three hours of drills and plyometrics.  “I got to watch them grow and see how they lead their lives and I got to learn from their examples and experiences.”

Now she’s setting the examples as one of the top seniors on the team. She and Maxfeldt have been selling necklaces and bracelets to raise additional funds for their Dig Pink event, hoping the event raises $3,000.

But mostly, she leads by example on the volleyball court, where, with the exception of a few snowboarding getaways, she basically finds herself 12 months a year between high school and club volleyball. Although she’s a star on the Bonita squad and the offensive powerhouse that opponents must shut down to win, she winces when she’s singled out. She gets quiet, even a bit uncomfortable with the designation.

Calling her a “leader” instead of a star is perhaps a more agreeable appellation. The truth is, much of Bonita’s offense runs through Kirby, so if she doesn’t perform at her best, the team suffers.

“I kinda feel the pressure a little bit,” she admitted. “Although we’re a team, my team relies on me. If I’m going to have a bad game, I know the game isn’t going to go very well. Ashley will be like, ‘Katie, c’mon on, let’s go.’”

Thus far, Maxfeldt hasn’t had to egg on her close friend very often. Bonita is 16-3 overall and 7-0 in league. Bonita has a deep, experienced and talented roster.

“We want to get as far as we can this year,” Katie said. Going farther than the team went last year would have to result in perfection because Bonita reached the CIF finals for the first time in the school’s history.

To help them achieve their goal, coach Adriana Contreras has intensified the girls’ training. After two hours of on-court drills, the team spends another hour on weight-training and plyometrics. The team also has the look and polish of a college team.

“Our coach has brought a lot of good things to the program,” Katie said. “We look more professional, that’s for sure. Before, we didn’t match, we had a mish-mash of everything. Now we have matching shoes, matching knee pads, matching bags, we look more like a college team now.”

Tonight, they’ll look like a college team matched in pink. Despite tonight’s battle for league supremacy and despite a top CIF ranking hanging in the balance, Katie is ever the cool customer. She says it takes her only about 10 minutes to get dressed, about the time it takes to put her hair in a “messy bun.” She’s a no-frills gunslinger.

If her form held true, and there’s no reason to think it didn’t, she slept well again last night. “I don’t let the game affect me until the day we play. Once, I step on the court though …,” she said, her words trailing off before breaking into another of her smiles.

Katie and her teammates engage in many pre-game rituals that are more fun than the game itself. They include cheers such as “ride the pony” and something called the “thigh slap,” where different teammates lead cheers, slapping their thighs and jumping into the air.

After warm-ups, that energy and enthusiasm will spill onto the court, no doubt lifted even higher by the partisan Bonita crowd. “It’s going to be intense,” Katie said, sighing then laughing.

Once the game is on, look for Katie’s first joyous shriek or shout-out. When exactly will it come?

“If it’s a really long rally or a good play, that’ll get me excited,” Katie said. “Especially when Ashley gives me a really amazing set, and it’s just hanging there in the air and I can see it, and I’m like, ‘Yes!’”

Yes, Katie may be dressed in pink tomorrow, but appearances are deceiving.

Once the game starts, she’ll be Killer Kirby. Make no mistake about her identity. You’ll be able to see her and hear her — a clear standout in any lineup.

Game time is 5:30 p.m. tonight, give or take a few minutes.



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