Unlike many volleyball players in the area, South River's Pam Patterson didn't immerse herself in the sport at an early age.
She didn't attend clinics or join a club team before high school. She preferred basketball, which seemed like a perfect fit for someone who would grow to be 6 feet tall.
Now, Patterson wishes she could turn back the clock and recapture those years spent away from volleyball. Not because she robbed herself of the experience needed to excel at this level, but because of all the good times she missed.
"I wish I could have enjoyed it at a younger age," she said. "I had been playing basketball since I was 5. When I was going into high school, my father was like, 'Why don't you play volleyball to get you in shape for basketball?' And it just evolved from there."
Her potential certainly has not gone unfulfilled because of the late start. Last season, her second on the varsity, Patterson carried the Seahawks into the region playoffs with 200 kills, 28 blocks, 22 digs and 15 aces, and was chosen first-team All-County.
"When we definitely needed to put the ball down, we could
always rely on Pam to do that," said coach Melissa Diehlmann.
Patterson, 17, continues to put up some incredible numbers as a senior outside hitter, despite having a new setter in Stacey Thomas, who replaced second-team All-County selection Gretchen Sullivan. In 24 games, she has 152 successful attacks in 178 chances with 77 kills, 25 digs, 21 aces, three solo blocks and one block assist. She got off to a fast start, earning the county's Player of the Week honors on Sept. 21 after totaling 32 kills and 20 digs in victories over Thomas Stone and LaPlata.
"Against LaPlata, Pam really was talking it up out there," said Diehlmann, a former setter at McDonough and UMBC. "When I played, I always felt that the more you talked, the more you were ready for anything. And she probably had the best hitting and passing game she's had this year."
She's come a long way in a relatively short amount of time.
"It's like a totally different person from when I started," said Patterson, whose team is 6-1 and ranked No. 7 in the metro area.
"My defense has really improved. My hits have gotten a lot harder and more direct and I'm finding I can place them better. My serves have been more consistent, too, and more direct. And my love for the game -- I love playing so much. I like it more than basketball now."
And she likes the heavy workload at South River. Perhaps no other player in the county is depended on more than Patterson, who had almost three times as many attacks as the next closest Seahawk, Kim Thomas (38), going into a recent match at Southern.
It wasn't supposed to be that way, but Diehlmann had a low turnout during the preseason, then one player quit and another came down with mononucleosis. Suddenly, the roster was down to seven, and Patterson again had to keep the team afloat.
Diehlmann calls Patterson "the big cheese" at South River, but she must fight for court time on her 18-and-under Capital club team, which includes All-County hitters Jen Conner and Julie Kasprzak of Severna Park. This will be Patterson's third year playing club ball.
"She's the head honcho at South River, but she had to earn her role on the Capital team more," said Maureen Carter, an assistant at South River and Patterson's coach with Capital. "Her playing is a little different. She's a little more aggressive at South River because she feels more confident. She feels she's in control. At Capital, she has girls who are her potential or better. It's a different role."
Diehlmann said, "Sometimes, it's hard to keep her focused in practice to keep pushing herself because she's so good. She never has had to sit on the bench in high school, but when she plays Capital ball, she does. She really has to work to play there.
"I think the college experience will do wonders for Pam. She's really good now, but she could be great, phenomenal."
Patterson, who carried a 3.5 GPA last year, was invited to attend the match between Towson State and UMBC, both of which have been recruiting her.
"I'm thankful I had a year like I did last year. That was important," she said. "Since I had such a good year, that helped with the colleges. Now I just have to build on that."