Tara King is wrapping up her redshirt senior season at Mesa State College in Grand Junction. King has become the best setter in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

Courtesy photo

Tara King is wrapping up her redshirt senior season at Mesa State College in Grand Junction. King has become the best setter in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

Steamboat's Tara King finishes stellar senior season at Mesa State

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— The competitor in Tara King tells her that as an individual player, she hasn’t improved all that much.

There isn’t a person, however, associated with the 2006 Steamboat Springs High School graduate and redshirt senior at Mesa State College in Grand Junction that would agree.

But that’s part of King’s persona. Her work ethic and leadership ability have become things of lore on the volleyball court in Grand Junction.

Even her ability as an individual, whether she thinks it or not, has increased to the point where when King graduates in May or next December, she should have an opportunity to play professionally overseas.

In 2009, King was named the Rocky Mountain Athletic Con­­ference’s Setter of the Year and to the first-team All-RMAC team. This year, she was named the tournament MVP of the University of Neb­raska at Kear­­ney tournament. She also was named to the Ore­digger Volley­­ball Classic All-Tourn­ament Team.

“I feel like I’m peaking,” King said Thursday. “I figured some things out about leadership and being a team player. I’m more focused on making the people around me better. I was actually surprised I got any awards. I’m so nitpicky about my performance. I didn’t think I played that well. I’m concerned about getting more out of my teammates.”

The road to Mesa

Like many athletes, King was set on playing Division I volleyball. After her senior year in Steamboat, she looked at schools and went out to the University of New Hampshire, where the coach told her she had no idea why anyone would recruit her as a setter.

King admits that she was dejected, but as she got off the plane on the return trip to Color­ado, King saw the sun going down behind the mountain.

“I didn’t want to leave Colorado,” she said.

Former Steamboat player and University of California, Los Angeles All-American Katie Car­ter had advised Mavericks coach Dave Fleming to look at King. Fleming was an assistant coach at UCLA when Carter was playing there. One summer camp later, King had a scholarship offer. After initially not wanting to go to Mesa, King visited and realized it was nicer than she thought it was going to be.

Just two weeks before her freshman year of college, King was in an accident and hurt her shoulder.

She was told she would battle as a freshman for playing time, so she ignored the pain in her shoulder and played in 40 games.

“I turned my mind off to (the pain),” said King, who would have surgery her sophomore year to repair two tears in her labrum. “I was told I was battling for a starting spot. I battled all season. Emotionally and physically, it was exhausting. But it taught me how far I can push my body.”

After surgery, King was named second-team all conference her redshirt year.

The next step

King had a phenomenal year her junior season, averaging more than 10 assists a game.

This season, she’s helped lead a Mavericks team that looked inexperienced but has started to peak at the right time.

“It means a lot,” said Flem­ing, noting that King can do things few setters in the Pac-10 Conference can do. “I think she’s the best setter in the RMAC. She does things on the court that no other setter in the RMAC can do.”

King changed her major several times in college but has settled on psychology. She’d like to coach, possibly coming back to help Fleming. She said she’d also like to get into the psychology of sports nutrition.

“She’d be an amazing coach,” Steamboat Springs High School volleyball coach Wendy Hall said. “She’s very driven, intelligent and competitive. The fact she’s learned from and dealt with many different personalities adds to that credibility.”

That can wait for now, though. Healthy and playing the best volleyball of her life, King is looking at playing after college.

She’s already had invitations from several teams to go play internationally. She will get in touch with Carter, who played in Spain for several years, and try to find the best opportunity.

“It’s one of those things where it’s a luxury we have her,” Fleming said. “I was talking to an assistant and a basketball coach the other day. I was saying ‘That’s a kid we’re going to really, really miss.’ There aren’t many kids that can do what she can. We take it for granted seeing her in the gym every day.”

Mesa State and King wrap up their home season at 7 p.m. Fri­­day and 4 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Brown­­son Arena in Grand Junction.

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