Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Kelsea Knudsen is one of the top players on a North Gwinnett team that is the only Class AAAAA squad in the county in the state rankings.
SUWANEE — As is the case in baseball and softball, some of the most feared offensive threats in volleyball are the power hitters.
North Gwinnett’s Kelsea Knudsen definitely fits that description.
THE KNUDSEN FILE
Who: Kelsea Knudsen
School: North Gwinnett
Favorite TV show: Any show in the “CSI” series
Favorite sports team: San Francisco 49ers
Dream job: Something in graphic design
What are the biggest benefits from playing club volleyball?: “It’s a step up in competition more like college than high school.”
• Leads the Bulldogs with 192 kills on the season heading into Tuesday’s matches and has added 35 service aces and 107 digs
• MVP of this year’s Collins Hill Classic
• Was a teammate of teammate and Super Six selection Alex Panks, plus Collins Hill standout setter Katherine Ahlswede, on the GA5 16-1 club team this past summer
• Mother, Shelley Knudsen, played college volleyball at George Fox University in Oregon
The 5-foot-9 junior has plenty of speed, agility and hitting power to make her one of Gwinnett County’s top outside hitters this season.
And she has been a major factor in North’s (31-2 and ranked No. 4 in the state in Class AAAAA) best start in school history, leading the Bulldogs with 192 kills.
Still, it’s one thing for a hitter to be able to deliver a powerful kill. The mark of a truly great hitter, however, goes beyond raw power.
“An outside hitter is supposed to be able to adjust to any set that she gets,” Bulldogs coach Vanessa Henry said. “I always tell our outsides there’s no bad sets for them. Kelsea has the full concept of that. She knows whatever sets are there, she’s going to make work.”
What has been perhaps the biggest key in Knudsen’s success so far this season is that she may very well be one of the county’s most polished outside hitters.
She also has taken advantage of several key resources to help her become so fundamentally sound.
For one thing, she has practically grown up with the sport. Her mother Shelley is a former college volleyball player at George Fox University in Oregon and the younger Knudsen has not been hesitant to ask for pointers.
“My mom is awesome,” Knudsen said. “She’s taught me the basics of the game and how to play. She’ll come out to the court we have out back and hit balls to me. I’ve been really blessed with that.”
Henry doesn’t mind having Knudsen’s mother serve as almost a second coach. In fact, she says it only reinforces many of the lessons she teaches Knudsen in practice.
“It’s definitely a plus having a parent who knows volleyball,” Henry said. “Even if they hear things from me, to go home and hear it again from a parent … sometimes things finally click when they hear it over and over again.”
In addition, she has spent the past several summers playing club volleyball like a growing number of Gwinnett’s top volleyball players.
But this past summer was different in that played for the GA5 club’s strong 16-1 team, which also featured a pair of strong setters in Collins Hill’s Katherine Ahlswede and, more importantly, North teammate Alex Panks.
Though they’ve been teammates together in the North program the past two years, Knudsen believes spending the summer playing alongside Panks in club ball for the first time has helped them develop a much better working relationship that has carried over into the high school season.
“It’s really helped out our communication,” Knudsen said. “I really know what she’s going to set (each time). She’s one of the best setters I’ve played with ever.”
But as much as Knudsen has benefited from the extra coaching from her mother and the chemistry she’s developed with Panks, it’s been up to her to make the most of those benefits.
And she’s done so by becoming a more complete player.
That includes contributing at the service line, where she has 35 aces this season, and on defense, where she has come up with 107 digs.
And as much as Knudsen has grown with a North Gwinnett program that has advanced to the second round of the Class AAAAA state sectionals two of the past three seasons, she believes the best is still ahead for herself and the Bulldogs.
“We’ve worked a lot harder this year,” Knudsen said. “We’re a lot more competitive. Our skill has definitely been upped by a lot. And we’re looking to get very far (in the postseason).”