By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Carley Walstad isn’t the biggest or fastest player on the Stillwater High School volleyball team. She doesn’t hog the spotlight — instead opting to do more of the dirty work behind the scenes.
But make no mistake, without the sophomore setter, wins might be a little harder to come by this season for the Lady Pioneers.
“I’m just always thinking, we can’t have a kill if I don’t give our hitters a good set,” Walstad said.
Walstad hasn’t always been a setter. Nine months ago, she wasn’t sure how she would fit into Stillwater coach Jason Webber’s plans — too short to be a front-line blocker and hitter, to slow to be a dominant libero.
That’s when Webber decided to give her a shot at being the setter on Webber’s club team. And the results have been nothing short of spectacular.
“She’s going to break records,” Webber said shortly after noticing Walstad tallied 31 assists in a three-game win over Broken Arrow Thursday.
“She does surprise me from time to time,” Webber said. “She isn’t the biggest or the fastest, but she tries to do what she can. She’s been doing a lot more in transition and she’s been using her footwork more, so those are some of the things that have really helped her get better.”
Most players would be excited about setting any school record by the time they graduate. For Walstad, the all-time assist record is a little more special.
“The record is actually held by one of my club coaches, Amy Kangas,” Walstad said. “It’s really cool because she’s been helping me a lot. She usually comes to all our games, so I’d love to have it. It’d be such a huge honor to take that record from her.”
As Walstad will tell you, it isn’t necessarily about setting records — or at least not right now. It’s more about setting the table for Lady Pioneer wins.
“I’m not really concerned about that stuff because it is a team game,” Walstad said. “I don’t get the glory, and that’s fine. That’s what makes it fun. I feel like whenever my hitters have success, I have success. My hitters have one of the hardest skills in the game. Liberos and setters just play for the team.”
Walstad may give a lot of the credit to her hitters, but Webber it’s how well the sophomore has handled the pressure of becoming a varsity player that has impressed him the most — filling in for Tessa Meeks, who graduated last year.
“I don’t think the transition has been too tough,” Webber said. “The last two or three years she’s been able to watch Tessa. Tessa was a lot like (Walstad) — not the biggest or fastest player out there — but she was able to get herself in a position to make a play. I think that’s something that Carley has learned to do very well — so well that she doesn’t know any different.”
“Tessa is my cousin’s best friend, so she definitely helped me,” Walstad said. “She did everything down to the book. Watching her was like reading out of a text book. She also had a short stature, but ran the front row. I figured if she could do it, so could I.”
Following in the footsteps of giants like Meeks and Kangas can be a daunting task for anyone, especially a first-year starter like Walstad.
Now she’s hoping to leave her own mark on Stillwater’s program — and the record books.
“I definitely have some huge shoes to fill,” Walstad said. “Hopefully, I can do my job and help our team make it back to state. I’ve never felt like I had pressure put on me, but I know that following in their footsteps and having (Kangas) will only help me get better.”
And with two more years after this season to work with Walstad, Webber can’t help trying to contain his excitement.
“It’s very exciting to know that we still have her for two more years,” Webber said. “She has a lot of room to grow and she’s going to become even more accustomed to our style as a player. We expect great things for her. We expect her to break school records.”
The future may look bright for Walstad and the Lady Pioneers, but there’s still a lot of time between now and the time Walstad breaks those records.
“I definitely want to get my vert(icle jump) up,” Walstad said. “Switching to setter was a huge obstacle for me. I had to lose weight and get faster because you do run around so much.”
No doubt, there will be other obstacles that Walstad will have to maneuver around throughout the rest of her career. But with the help of Kangas and the rest of the Pioneer staff, Webber is confident Walstad’s stock will continue to soar.
“We want her to become more of a blocker and multi-tool player,” Webber said. “It’s a process and it takes some time. Right now, she’s feeling the pressure to learn things quicker than she ever has before but by the time that she’s a senior, I have a feeling the game will slow down for her and she will be able to make plays a lot easier.”
Maggie Ireton, volleyball
Morgan Wheatley, volleyball
Carley Geer, volleyball