Kaycee Shaffer has become an accidental star.
After all, the Curtis High School sophomore didn’t even expect to play varsity volleyball, let alone be the starting setter in her first year of high school.
“It’s a really cool experience,” she said. “It’s a higher level of play – and it’s quicker – so I like it. But I didn’t expect it at all.”
Fortunately for the Vikings, it didn’t take long for Shaffer to adapt to the pace. She leads the South Puget Sound League South in assists, with 231 in regular matches through last week. She averages 9.2 assists
per game and is 13th in the league in digs with 63.
“Not too bad for my little 5-foot-4 sophomore,” said Curtis coach Jeff Grosshans, who has been working with Shaffer since she took up volleyball at age 10.
Shaffer’s presence is especially welcome on a team determined to get back to the Class 4A state tournament a year after finishing third. A second-place finish in 2009 is the best Curtis (7-1 overall, 5-0 league) has done, but Grosshans said he thinks this year’s veteran-laden group can compete for the title. The team includes seven seniors.
“The girls have to be playing the best volleyball they can be playing, and peaking at just the right moment in the postseason,” he said.
Grosshans said he fully expects Shaffer to do just that as she develops into a dominant force in the league.
“She’s great, and she’s getting better every day,” he said. “She’s a hard worker. She never gives up and always fights.”
Shaffer admitted it isn’t always easy being the only underclassman among the starters. Her sister Kylee is a senior libero on the team.
“The hardest thing is being the youngest one,” she said. “I have to work harder. Sometimes I get nervous if they say something, but I don’t take it personally.”
That attitude is admired by the team’s veteran players.
Senior middle hitter Rachel Levenseller said the older teammates need to tell Shaffer what they want on the court.
“She’s definitely flexible, and she’s the biggest fireball there is,” Levenseller said. “She just gets out there and she’s going to kill it. She’s so determined.”
Shaffer said the upperclassmen have gone out of their way to welcome her.
“We’ve come together as a team and it’s like a family,” she said. “I like being close with them.”
Grosshans said Shaffer fits in well with the group.
“For a sophomore setter to come in and try to mesh with the older girls is a challenge,” he said. “But she has done a great job.
“She is in a very fortunate position where she is surrounded by very strong players.”
Shaffer, who also competes for the 253 Elite club team, started playing volleyball in fifth grade. A year later, she competed in the Girls National Junior Olympics in Miami. She used to play soccer, but decided she would rather be a one-sport athlete.
“I love the game,” she said of volleyball. “And I like playing at a high level.”
Shaffer said she plans to attend UCLA or the University of Washington to become an English teacher and volleyball coach. But in the less distant future, she plans to help the Vikings get back to state.
“She has that fire in her belly,” Grosshans said, “and that attitude that keeps the team alive and kicking.”