Coming into her own

The Baltimore Sun

Winters Mill volleyball coach Shelly Katzef calls senior Jackie Schaeffer one of her most improved players this season. The play of the defensive specialist will be key on a team that graduated five seniors. Just as critical will be the leadership she provides to the team's younger players.

As she enters her final high school season, Schaeffer is hoping not only to be a key element in her team's pursuit of the Carroll County title, but also to play well enough to be able to follow her older sister, Jennifer, into the college ranks.

How long have you been involved in volleyball?

Actually, my first year was in ninth grade. I got into it mostly because my family always played backyard volleyball. My sister played on the team, and I just kind of followed in her footsteps.

Was it tough to catch on at first?

At first, I have to admit, I wasn't the greatest at this sport. But the coaches gave everyone an opportunity to get on the court, especially at the JV level. Having practice every day, you just kind of learn.

Your coach has called you one of the team's most improved players. Is there any one aspect of your game in which you feel you've improved the most?

Well, I don't get to play front row at all, so my improvements are definitely on the back row. It's just digging the balls up and having accurate passes so that the front row can play your passes.

Winters Mill lost a lot of seniors from last year's team. Now, as a senior, do you feel like you have to step up and be a leader to the younger players?

I think I'm more comfortable stepping up to be a leader this year than I would have been last year. But everyone on the team has been great this year, just really communicating. I think we have the strongest bond I've ever seen on our team.

In past years, players on some teams might have felt that, with the dominance of Liberty, a county title was out of the question. This year, do you have more of a sense that you can win the county?

I think that every year it's pretty much up in the air. Volleyball is such a quick game - every ball counts and every point counts. Every year, I think that anyone could take the title. We'd all like to think that [we can win the county title], but our team came out harder this year, and you never really know what other teams are coming out harder as well. Everyone loses and everyone gains different players, so it's really whoever is on their game.

What do you like to do when you're not playing?

Family time is really important, because with classes, homework and practice, you don't get to spend much time with the family. I also like to hang out with friends. ... Most of my friends are on the volleyball team.

Your sister Jennifer is playing at Villa Julie College. Have you been able to learn anything from her experience?

She just enjoys being on a [college] team, and it just makes going to school a lot more fun. So, if anything, it's definitely a push factor to maybe play volleyball in college.

Do you have any favorite movies?

I think my favorite movie is The Sandlot or A League of Their Own. I used to play softball, and I just love sports movies. They're inspiring for some reason.

Do you think sports gives you the opportunity to have experiences in life that you otherwise wouldn't be able to?

Definitely. Being on a team teaches you how to communicate with others, and how to get along and solve things.

Any personal goals for this year, volleyball or otherwise?

I'm taking AP [Advanced Placement classes], and that's pretty much my big goal for the year. I need to make sure I stay on top of that and get good grades ... and hopefully get a leap on college.

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