Local hitter in spotlight

Steamboat's Katie Carter helps UCLA to national semifinals

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Don Liebig/Courtesy

UCLA Bruins senior outside hitter Katie Carter hits the ball in a match against Washington State earlier this season. Carter helped her team sweep the University of Hawaii in the NCAA regional inals on Saturday and will play the University of Nebraska in the national semifinals at 5 p.m. Thursday in Omaha. Carter, a 2003 Steamboat Springs High School graduate, is second on the team in kills per game and third on the team in blocking.

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Courtesy Photo

UCLA Bruins senior outside hitter Katie Carter helped her team sweep the University of Hawaii in the NCAA regional finals on Saturday and will play the University of Nebraska in the national semifinals at 5 p.m. Thursday in Omaha. Carter, a 2003 Steamboat Springs High School graduate, is second on the team in kills per game and third on the team in blocking.

— Katie Carter's week just keeps getting better.

First, Carter helped her UCLA Bruins to their first NCAA Division I national semifinal since 1994 after sweeping the University of Hawaii on Saturday night in Honolulu.

Next, the Steamboat Springs native woke up Tuesday to an e-mailed contract offer from Caguas Criollas - part of the 10-team Women's Superior Volleyball League of Puerto Rico - to sign on as one of two Americans eligible to compete on the professional team.

Then, Carter boarded a plane bound for Omaha, Neb., where No. 4-seeded UCLA will take on No.1-seeded University of Nebraska at 5 p.m. Thursday.

And, during her layover in Phoenix, Carter's coaches told her of an upcoming Dec. 15 announcement that she has been selected to the American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America team, third-team honors.

But despite all the recognition, pro career prospects and personal accolades, Carter has only one thing on her mind.

"The No. 1 - all that I care about right now - is killing Nebraska on Thursday," Carter said by phone from the Phoenix airport.

Carter said recent changes in the Bruins' lineup have opened up the court and made every hitter a threat. She also thinks that after Nebraska eliminated UCLA from the round of 16 last year, the Bruins are a stronger team - particularly because of a more competitive Pacific-10 Conference that includes the other two remaining teams (Stanford and the University of Washington).

"This year, we know it. I know honestly we can do it," Carter said about the possibility of helping UCLA secure its 100th collegiate sports national title. "They don't even know it's coming : You hear about the teams that go that far, and we want be that team."

But it's not only the team that Carter felt has come together on its way to a 33-3 record this season.

The 6-foot-3-inch outside hitter said everything is falling into place for her, personally, to make a run at a championship to cap off her senior year.

"Everything, every aspect of my life is coming together," said Carter, who had made the regional final All-Tournament team as well as earning All-Region honorable mention honors. "I was excited. It was a personal goal I hadn't told anyone about, but it feels good. It's an honor, and it shows how hard I've worked."

Carter did not focus on herself for long. Her mind went right back to her team and the challenge ahead.

Back home, Steamboat Springs volleyball coach Wendy Hall, who took Carter to the 2002 Class 4A state finals, is anxious to see Carter advance to the national finals.

"She's so deserving," Hall said. "She's as hard of a worker as I have ever coached, and she's taken her natural gifts and made the most of them with an unrelenting work ethic."

Hall leaves today to make the long drive to Omaha to see Carter play at the sold-out Qwest Center. The match will be broadcast at 5 p.m. Thursday on ESPN2 and ESPNU. Thursday's winners advance to the national championship match at 7 p.m. Saturday.

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