Steamboat Springs The cell phone signal crackles as Katie Carter and Allison Griffing roll across the Kansas plains, talking about the sacrifices they have made.
Sure, they miss their friends and might have to bail out of the prom early, but they are juniors playing volleyball against the top high school talent in the country, and they're loving every minute.
"Practices sometimes drag on, but we don't mind the drives anymore," Carter said. "We were aware that it would take a lot of time,"
Three times a week, Carter and Griffing travel 50 miles for roughly three hours of practice with coach Don Fell and the Avalanche Volleyball Club.
Then they drive home. But the price in gas was offset when Carter was offered a volleyball scholarship from UCLA a dream come true for the California-born kid.
"I had no idea volleyball would take me there," Carter said.
"I used to go the camps and think I could play there. It's where I've always wanted to go."
The Bruins likely would have discovered Carter because Griffing's aunt is an assistant coach at UCLA, but the exposure both Carter and Griffing have garnered from participation in club volleyball is undeniable.
Already all-conference honorees, the two are enhancing their competitive drive while improving their game under the direction of Fell.
His expectations are high because the talent level is superb. As a coach in Aspen for more than 20 years, Fell was familiar with Wendy Hall's program and philosophies, so he contacted the Steamboat Springs head coach and extended Carter an invitation to his club team tryouts. Griffing went along.
Twenty-seven players from the Western Slope region tried out for his team. Eight made the cut.
"I feel Katie is going to be an Olympian," Fell said. "Allison came with her and that was a bonus. I am tickled pink to have them."
The quest for increased recognition continues this weekend in Kansas City, Mo., at the Asics Crossroads Junior National Qualifier one of six qualifiers across the country. Carter and Griffing will participate in a High Performance Camp where officials test the athletes on everything from vertical leap to passing ability under the watchful eye of college coaches. From the hundreds in Kansas City, three to four will be named to the U.S. Junior National Team. USA Volleyball already has given Carter the opportunity to work out with the U.S. National Team at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs from April 22-27.
Whether they receive additional awards, Griffing said electing to play club volleyball was beneficial.
"I would definitely recommend it, especially if you're serious about volleyball," she said.
Hall has watched her players compete only once but indirectly evaluates their development through weekly open gyms. Although a proponent of multi-sport participation, she is supportive of Carter and Griffing's decision.
"They are the whole package," she said. "They respect each other and me and work hard in the classroom. I'm proud of them, not just as players, but as individuals."