Colleen King is volleyball’s paradox.
Perhaps the nicest girl in the game specializes in a statistic known as kills.
The most courteous young woman off the court steps onto the hardwood and transforms her arms from hug givers to messengers of loss and humiliation.
She will smile and wish her opponents the best with a handshake only moments before issuing them a spiked ball that will either sting emotionally as it echoes off the floor, or sting physically as it leaves an imprint on their bodies.
“She had a personality that was wonderfully gentle while at the same time extremely competitive,” said Wendy Hall, King’s former coach at Steamboat Springs High School.
As King enters her senior season at the University of Denver, another paradox is apparent. She faces her third conference change in three years this year. Her team first went from the Sunbelt Conference to the Western Athletic Conference last season, and is now transferring to the Summit League this year. But King has anything but a bitter attitude toward the adversity.
“I’ve been to almost every single state with being in the Sunbelt, the WAC and now the Summit League. I think it will be a great opportunity. It’s a conference we can do well in,” King said.
The University of Denver volleyball team should find success in the Summit League if King continues putting up solid numbers.
She finished last season with 342 kills, a .273 hitting percentage, and ranked among the top 250 Division I volleyball players in blocks per set and points per set with 0.96 and 3.6, respectively. She put up career match highs with a .700 hitting percentage against the University of Virginia, and 22 kills against Utah State University.
“Last year was a breakout year for her. It was her first year, at least in college, to be the star player,” said Jesse Mahoney, head coach at the University of Denver.
Apart from the quality stat lines, King started to show during her junior year some of the intangibles that makes her more than just another star player.
“She has come into her own as a team leader,” Mahoney said.
It’s a role King is well accustomed to coming from Steamboat Springs High School.
“It didn’t matter how she was playing,” Hall said. “If she was playing poorly or playing great, she was always a great leader. That is the kind of thing that is hard to coach.”
Said Mahoney: “We’ll look to her as an emotional leader and team leader this year. There’ll be matches we win or lose this year based on how she plays, and I’m totally OK with that.”
Few players can invoke a coach to put that kind of faith in them. It is one of the many intangibles, which when combined with King’s raw talent, changed playing professionally from a dream to a feasible next step for King.
“She is talented enough, for sure,” Hall said. “If it is still a passion at that point, she definitely has the ability.”
And it looks like one lucky pro team might be blessed with volleyball’s paradox.
“There are a lot of great opportunities to play overseas,” King said, “and I don’t think after this year I’ll be done with playing volleyball.”
Jake Miller, a 2012 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, is working as a summer intern for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. He recently completed his freshman year at Nebraska Wesleyan University.