LAGRANGE — Kari Kincannon can be aptly described as, in the words of an old song, a walking contradiction.
She’s a vocal leader of the Keystone volleyball team, yet her coach said there’s not a bit of ego in her.
She’s proud of all the postseason honors that have been bestowed upon her since her sophomore year, but she expresses surprise when others make a fuss over her.
She’s the star — probably the biggest star in the Patriot Athletic Conference — but she doesn’t use that status to any personal advantage.
“Kari has never been a discipline problem,” Keystone coach Dave Cross said. “I think she’s afraid of getting in trouble. That’s rather unusual for a star athlete. Sometimes they think they can bend the rules a little because they’re stars.”
And it’s quite possible the Wildcats’ outstanding senior middle hitter has no idea how highly regarded she is.
“When I called Kari to tell her she was going to be the subject of the feature story, she must have thanked me five times,” Cross said. “I told her, ‘Don’t thank me. You earned it.’”
She certainly did. Kincannon has 612 career kills in her three years on the Keystone varisty. The figure doesn’t even include block kills. In 2006, Kincannon set a school record for kills in one season with 363.
And the recognition rolled in. Kincannon has been first team all-conference, all-district and All-Lorain County for the past two seasons. She was Division II’s Player of the Year in the district last year, and in ’05 she was named the PAC’s Most Valuable Player. She was honorable mention All-Ohio as a sophomore and was third team all-state as a junior.
Despite Kincannon’s lack of ego, she doesn’t go into a self-deprecating mode when asked how she feels about seeing her name on those honor rolls.
“I like it,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. I set goals for myself and this makes me think I’m reaching the goals.”
The initial step toward those plateaus was taken five years ago, when Kincannon started playing competitive volleyball. She was following in the path blazed by her sister, Ashley, who was playing for Cross and the Wildcats’ varsity.
Kincannon insists she was just another first-year player as a seventh grader, although admitting that she was the tallest girl on the team (she’s 6-foot today).
“I had to work my way up, like everyone else,” Kincannon said. “I was surprised when I started getting recognition.”
Cross recognized there was something special about Kincannon the following season.
“She played for me on a club team I coached,” Cross said. “That was when we started to see her come on. That was when we saw her starting to find the holes with her hitting. It was also when we noticed her desire — her wanting to always be better.”
It was also when she started wanting to see her team achieve as much success as she was having.
“She’s a great teammate,” Cross said. “She’s all about the team. She always thinks of her teammates. She’s developed into a vocal leader, which is good to see because when Kari was younger she was so quite.
“She’s not the only vocal leader we have — we have a couple of them. But she’s always trying to pump up her teammates. She knows what I want and conveys it to her teammates on the court.”
Yet there’s no ego involved, according to Cross. Ego is considered a requirement for being a vocal leader and the coach’s conduit.
“Usually that’s true,” Cross said. “Not with Kari. It’s very refreshing that way.”
Kincannon has been a starter for the Wildcats’ varsity since she was a freshman. She was named the team’s Most Improved Player, but the youngster was overshadowed by upperclassmen, including her sister Ashley. The younger Kincannon played on a team that went 18-6, won the final championship of the defunct Lorain County Conference and defeated perennial Division II powerhouse Walsh Jesuit, one of the legendary games in Keystone volleyball history.
Cross said the turning point in Kincannon’s varsity career came the next season, when the Wildcats upset Lutheran West in the first year of the PAC.
“She just took over,” Cross said. “We were down two games to one and she started dominating in the fourth game. She must have had 31, 32 kills. It was a big win for us in a down year.”
The Wildcats went 15-8 in 2005, but won their division of the PAC with an 11-2 record as Kincannon came up with 206 kills (up from 43 as a ninth-grader). Last year she helped Keystone go 19-5 and post a 13-0 record in conference play.
Like everyone else in the Keystone volleyball family, Kincannon is excited about the current season. With all six starters returning, the Wildcats are the favorites to win the PAC again. Kincannon and junior standout Chloe Irish give the team an awesome tandem in the middle. Erica Gregory on the outside and Krysten Johnson doing the setting make the ’Cats one of the most feared offensive teams in the district in Division II.
Her interests off the court are a bit less exciting than her play on it. She likes to spend time with her friends, attend Cleveland Indians games (she has no favorite player) and go to the movies (scary films are her choice).
Kincannon plans to go to college to play volleyball and major in education. St. Joseph (Ind.), Kent State, Findlay and Lake Erie, which is moving to NCAA Division II this season, have expressed interest in securing her talents.
And although her father, Gary, is a teacher at Westlake High School, Kari wants to work with students a little younger.
“I’ll be going for elementary education,” she said. “I just like little kids.”
Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or email@example.com.