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Prep volleyball: Sandia Prep’s Kelly has the hops, hitting power

As shopping lists go, Catherine Kelly’s had the density of a novel.

There were, she estimates, about 100 schools showing interest in bringing her in to play college volleyball. Quite a few of them extended scholarship offers.

Some of them, she said, preferred to wean her into a back-line specialist — specifically, a libero. Kelly is 5-foot-8, and their intentions were, to a degree, understandable.

But those schools were crossed off the list.

Kelly wasn’t shopping to save shots. She was shopping to deliver them.

“That’s not what I wanted to do,” said Sandia Prep’s gifted senior, last year’s Gatorade New Mexico Player of the Year. “I’m a hitter. I love hitting.”

Hitters, by trade, are long and lean. They rarely hover in the 5-8 range.

But as the Sundevils’ star prepares for the final week of her stellar prep career, it bears repeating: There are few hitters in any classification in New Mexico who can produce strikes with such consistency, power, timing or precision.

“Some people have it, some don’t,” Sandia Prep coach Audra Gentry said. “She has it.”

Next week, Kelly will sign with New Mexico State, a program that had no issue, Kelly said, with letting her continue her playing days as a high-jumping, big-swinging outside hitter.

“They had the best offer,” she said.

Kelly has averaged 14 kills per match this season for Sandia Prep.

“A lot of people see me as small,” she said. “I just take that as, ‘OK, I’ll just show them what I’ve got.’ A prove them wrong kind of thing.”

One of the great urban legends about Kelly — and even Kelly doesn’t know for sure if this story is true — is that during her junior season, someone claimed that she had a higher vertical leap (roughly three feet) than any boy athlete in any sport at Sandia Prep.

Whether it’s true or not is besides the point. Seeing her jump makes it seem true.

Her ability to get off the floor, and her expertise in delivering pinpoint kills, is largely what attracted so many colleges to her in the first place.

With her size, timing is essential, and Kelly also admits that she swings her arm faster, too, in order to generate more heat on her kills. And she generally finds great hitting angles.

This week, she will attempt to lead Sandia Prep (19-2) to another Class 4A state title, and the Sundevils’ starting lineup returns intact from the group that won a blue trophy at the Santa Ana Star Center 12 months ago.

“As long as we stay energized and click as a team,” Kelly said, “we’re unstoppable.”

About that: Portales and Robertson — two teams the Sundevils swept in the regular season — were considered the strongest challengers to Sandia Prep as state tourney play got underway Thursday at Rio Rancho’s Santa Ana Star Center.

Kelly said the team got a chuckle Sunday when not one but two announcers on ProView Networks picked against Sandia Prep — instead going with Robertson and Portales — to win in that classification.

“We were, like, ‘What?’ ” Kelly said with a laugh.

If the Sundevils — who went unbeaten against 4A competition and whose only two losses came to La Cueva and St. Pius  — needed additional motivation this week, then that was it.

Postseason overview

CLASS 6A: Centennial (21-1) and veteran coach Al Rosen head north as the defending state champion in Class 6A, and certainly the favorite. The District 2 triumvirate of La Cueva, Sandia and Eldorado had the next three top seeds after the Hawks, with Las Cruces, runner-up last year to the Hawks, a potent No. 5. Cleveland and Volcano Vista also hope to get into the mix by Saturday night.

Pool play begins in all six classes this morning, with first-round matches later in the day. Nearly all the action is at the Star Center. (See page D6 for the full schedule.)

Pool winners get a bye into Friday’s quarterfinals; the quarters and semis in all divisions will be played Friday.

ELSEWHERE: St. Pius tries to defend in Class 5A with new coach Jordan Russell. Artesia, Los Lunas and Farmington are among the top pursuers. … Elida is going after its eighth consecutive title and is the No. 1 seed in Class 1A. … From 3A, Texico is chasing a fourth straight blue trophy, and the Lady Wolverines also have a No. 1 seed. … Sarah Abney of Las Cruces will sign her national basketball letter of intent Monday with Sacramento State, after the state tournament. … One of the most interesting teams to watch is Logan. Class 2A’s No. 1 seed not only has never won a state championship in volleyball, but the school has never even played in a state final.