Hitting stride

Seton Keough's Kelsey Lisle has become the most prolific hitter in metro-area volleyball.

Cover Story

November 16, 2005|By KATHERINE DUNN | KATHERINE DUNN,SUN REPORTER

At 15 years old, Seton Keough's Kelsey Lisle wondered what she had gotten herself into last December when she agreed to move up to the 18-and-under Time Out Orange Crush club volleyball team.

A top player on the club's 17-and-under team, Lisle wasn't too sure about the demands of the faster-paced game with players three years older than she was.

"At first, I was like, `I'm in way over my head.' I had always been the best player on my team and when I came up to play on the 18s, there were people better than me, girls who had already been signed to colleges.

"Then I just realized I needed to stick with it and it would be for a better cause in the end. It was totally worth it," said Lisle, a Seton Keough junior who turned 16 three weeks ago.

As the club season progressed, Lisle's game rose toward the level of her teammates, who included 2004 All-Metro first-team selections Roberta Holehouse, now playing at Penn State, and Tiffany Johnson, now at Kansas State. Lisle returned to her Seton Keough team this fall and emerged as the metro area's most prolific hitter, averaging 5.18 kills per game.

When Orange Crush coach Ian Blanchard moved her up to the 18s, he saw in the hard-hitting, 5-foot-11 Lisle the physical makings of a top-notch volleyball player as well as an overwhelming drive to succeed.

"When she first arrived on my team, for sure she was very enthusiastic and eager. She wanted to learn more and she worked her tail off throughout the year," said Blanchard, also the head coach at UMBC. "I've had very few athletes who are as enthusiastic and dedicated to getting better."

From the start of club season to the end, Lisle's role on the Orange Crush team changed significantly.

"In the beginning it was all about, `Kelsey, don't hurt us,' and by the end, it was, `Kelsey, you've got to earn points for us,' and she did," Blanchard said. "Last year was a huge learning experience and growth experience for her. She really started coming into her own and developing confidence."

A self-professed "volleyball junkie," Lisle constantly strives to improve. A first-team All-Baltimore City selection as a sophomore and a three-time Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference All-Star, she works with a personal trainer and has extra tutoring sessions with Blanchard twice a week.

Last summer, she followed the club season with camps at Towson and UMBC as well as two more on the West Coast at Pepperdine and Washington.

When Lisle hits the court, she is all business. She works every second.

"There's no other work ethic like it," Seton Keough coach April Moore said. "If this girl could play volleyball 24 hours a day, she would. It's not just an ethic, it's a passion. She's one of the most passionate athletes I've ever seen."

Lisle suspects that work ethic stems from her parents, Julie and Andy Lisle. Each owns a business and puts a lot of time into running it.

"I guess I was born with it. My parents both have it. They're really driven," said Lisle, the youngest of three sisters.

Julie Lisle said her daughter has always been committed to whatever she takes on, from volleyball to academics to the service organizations she volunteers for at Seton Keough.

"She's very driven on things that matter to her," her mother said. "She's very focused. She doesn't give up. She played [the clarinet] and she was terrible at it, but she wouldn't give it up."

Lisle laughed at the memory.

"I finally let it go so I could play more sports, but I cried. I was like, `I'm a quitter,' but it was good that I let it go."

Her work ethic also has been important to her academic success. Diagnosed with dyslexia in the fifth grade, she works hard to maintain a 4.0 grade point average.

She works with tutors at school and will have the same help available wherever she goes to college.

Still a year away from signing, Lisle already has made several unofficial college visits. She also went to watch Duke play last weekend and flew to California earlier this fall to watch St. Mary's play a few matches.

Lisle got an up-close look at California talent last summer at the Pepperdine camp in Malibu.

"I'd always heard great things about California and how they're so advanced, so I wanted to play them and see how much better they were," Lisle said, "but they weren't that much better ... so from that aspect, I was kind of disappointed, because I wanted to learn some things."

Still, the trip was worth it because she had a chance to play a lot of games and to be seen by California college coaches.

Her development over the summer brought her back to Seton Keough as not only one of the top hitters in the IAAM A Conference, but one of the best in the metro area.

Although her team finished eighth in the A Conference, Lisle stood out. An outside hitter, she pounded out 321 kills. Her hitting percentage, akin to a baseball batting average, was .554.

But Lisle was more than just a power hitter. Her solid all-around game includes a jump serve, good for 111 aces, and the exceptional anticipation and athleticism to dig 357 balls.

"She's a great player," said Mount de Sales coach Kenny Mills. "Her all-around game really helped [Seton Keough] out this year, and she is who they go to. She has a great serve, a good attack. She hits not only from the front row but from the back. She certainly shows her athletic ability and her talent. She carries that team."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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