Katie Carter

Rising above the competition

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— Katie Carter likes the color red, lasagna dinners and the rap group Outkast, so she's not much different than the other teenagers walking the halls at Steamboat Springs High School.

But she undeniably stands out from -- and above -- many of her peers. She's 6-foot-2 and headed to UCLA on a volleyball scholarship this fall. But those who saw Carter on the court during the season caught just one side of the 17-year-old.

Friends who grew up with Carter and hang out with her on a daily basis concede there is more to the senior than her vicious arm swing and potent jump serve.

"On the court she's so determined," Mike Holland said. "In school she's great to be around. She always has a joke about everything. She looks like an all-star volleyball player and plays like one but her personality doesn't make it seem like she has a full-ride scholarship to a Division I school. She's the same person now than before she signed to go to UCLA. I know of other people in the same situation where it went straight to their head not their heart."

Holland has known Carter since he moved to Steamboat for his sophomore year of high school. The two served as the homecoming king and queen this fall, an honor to Carter because the students selected the royalty.

Her easy-going attitude and positive approach to everything she undertakes make it easy to understand why Carter was picked to represent Steamboat on the homecoming court, though she admits some people still shy away from speaking to her because of her intimidating physical presence.

"It happens every day," Carter said. "Someone doesn't talk to me or is scared of me. I see someone scoot away from me in the hall. Once I flash a smile, they still know I could kick their butt but that I am a nice person."

Carter jokes about being a bully, but she has learned to become tough and aggressive because it was necessary for her to realize her dreams of playing collegiate volleyball.

"I think she's respected because she's a real hard worker," Steamboat volleyball coach Wendy Hall said. "I think kids have recognized that it didn't come easy for her."

Carter wasn't the best volleyball player in middle school. She wasn't even on the middle school's top team. She didn't begin maturing physically until her junior year of high school, much later than average for females.

Carter quit basketball to focus exclusively on volleyball after her junior year, committing to the all-consuming schedule of club ball. It pulled Carter away from friends and from Steamboat, but it was a decision teammate and best friend Bayli Stillwell said was a turning point in Carter's volleyball career. Carter not only played with and against Colorado's best volleyball players, she shared the court with the best players from the rest of the country as well.

Colorado State coach Tom Hilbert noticed Carter first. UCLA became interested soon thereafter, and no one else really needed to bother calling. Carter is originally from California. Her older sister lives in San Diego, and going back to the west coast, an area in love with volleyball, for college was an easy choice.

Her preseason workout from UCLA arrived in the mail, and Carter is faithfully putting in the hours with weights and on the court in preparation for her first season in the Pac-10 conference.

"I'm looking forward to just playing again and making friends with my teammates and trying to go for a national championship," Carter said. "That would be so awesome."

Heading into her senior season, Carter was worried about the attention she would draw because Division I volleyball prospects aren't plentiful in western Colorado. Opposing teams' fans heard Steamboat had a player going to UCLA even if they initially weren't sure whom it was. One swing from Carter during warm-ups, however, quickly clued everyone in. "This year was way different ... people did turn their heads," Carter said. "They knew about college and they would talk. People knew I was a standout, but in my mind everyone on the team was."

It turned out that everyone on the Sailors did contribute to their runner-up finish at the 2002 state tournament with Carter playing a prominent role in the team's 30-2 campaign.

"I think her ability makes others feel good around her," Hall said. "I really saw that toward the end of the season. Her talents on the floor allowed her to lead."

Stillwell said Carter certainly pushed her. The two served as warm-up partners and Steamboat's primary attackers at net. Stillwell is headed to James Madison this fall to play volleyball. The Virginia school is also a Division I institution, meaning the possibility is there for the two friends and former teammates to meet at the NCAA Tournament on opposite sides of the net. "That would be the coolest thing," Stillwell said.

USA Volleyball, the nation's governing body for the sport, recently named Carter one of the top 50 recruits in the country. Her picture and name were printed in its most recent issue of Volleyball. "It's something so little, but I'm from a small town and something so little means so much," Carter said. "It says Steamboat next to my name and people will think she's from a small town and look what she did."

If attending UCLA was not enough, Carter has hopes of continuing Steamboat's rich tradition of producing Olympic athletes. "I want to make this town proud of me," Carter said. "I want to be the famous volleyball Olympian from Steamboat and people will be like, 'how did she learn to play volleyball in the snow?'"

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