Carli Kolbe, the Sam Houston State volleyball team kills leader and All-Southland Conference performer, hasn't always had passion for the game. The standout from College Station grew up as a basketball player, like the rest of her family, she says.
In seventh grade, Kolbe was even on the volleyball B team. She was disinterested. One of her middle school friends played club volleyball, while Kolbe was still into basketball, what she considered to be a tougher sport.
However, with time, volleyball became more competitive for Kolbe. She had been playing basketball for so long and volleyball presented her with a new challenge.
After spending three years with her friend's volleyball club, she moved to the Texas Tornados from Houston. That's when things got complicated.
In her sophomore year of high school, Kolbe played for the Tornados during basketball season. So after basketball practice, she would go to Houston to play volleyball.
"My junior year was really rough when I quit basketball," said Kolbe. "I was calling all of my old friends like, 'I don't know what to do.' I was so upset because I played basketball my whole life."
But her basketball-minded family showed her full support. Kolbe was on her way to becoming a volleyball star. She was selected as an All-District player three times and led College Station's A&M Consolidated to state playoffs in her junior and senior seasons. She also qualified for the Junior Olympics four times.
SHSU head coach Brenda Gray recruited Kolbe based on her natural ability and high ceiling potential, a decision that has paid dividends over the past three seasons.
Junior Carli Kolbe has a reputation in Southland Conference volleyball circles for being a big hitter. She has the stats to prove it. Just three quarters of the way through her third season as a Bearkat, she already has become only the 20th Sam Houston player in the 41-year history of the program to produce more than 1,000 career kills. Her total now stands at 1,087 kills will four matches to go in the regular season.
But the A&M Consolidated High School product isn't that concerned with statistics. Right now she and the Bearkat team have one goal in mind.
"We're hosting the Southland Conference tournament here in Johnson Coliseum this month and our number one goal is to be in that tournament," Kolbe said.
The Southland Conference's representative to the 2010 NCAA Division I women's volleyball national tournament will be decided in the league's post-season tournament at Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum Friday, November 19 through Sunday, November 21.
The Southland volleyball championship tournament is returning to Huntsville for the first time since 1994.
"Having the tournament in our house has been an extra incentive for the team and the coaches," Kolbe said. "The great thing about making the tournament is that it's a whole new ball game. You get hot at the right time and you can win it all."
To be hot at the right time will require lots of focus for the Bearkats, a young squad this season with no seniors. Kolbe is a more focused volleyball player as a junior in college than she was as a junior in high school.
"I like juniors," Gray said. "To me, they're molded a little bit. They know what to expect from me and they almost play with no fear. They know they have another year but they also know there's not a lot of pressure."
But unlike the begining of Kolbe's volleyball career, there is a lot of passion.
Coming into the 2010 season, one of the biggest concerns for the Bearkats was where its leadership would come from with the team being so young. Kolbe has the most court time, but she says leadership doesn't have an age requirement.
"I've always said that I don't care how old you are. I feel like when I was a freshman, I was leading. I tell them, if you want to take it from me, take it from but someone's got to do it."
The final two home matches for the Bearkats are coming up Thursday, Nov. 11, when SHSU hosts Lamar and Saturday, Nov. 13, when the Kats end the regular season against McNeese State. The match Nov. 11 will be "Orange Out Day" at Johnson Coliseum with the first 200 students entering the building wearing orange will receive a free Bearkat volleyball t-shirt.
Sam Houston has won the Southland volleyball post-season championship tournament twice. Both times the Kats defeated Stephen F. Austin in the finals, advancing to the NCAA tournament in 1993 and 1996. The Bearkats reached the tournament finals but finished as runner-up in 1987 and 1994.
Tickets to Sam Houston volleyball are on sale online at www.gobearkats.com/tickets or at the SHSU athletic ticket office at the Ron Mafridge Field House at Bowers Stadium. Ticket office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The ticket office telephone is 936 294-1729.