WATERLOO — Kate Shannon couldn’t have anticipated a position change when she entered her fourth season as a starting libero on Waterloo Columbus’ volleyball team.
Yet a couple weeks into the season, one of the state’s top defenders found herself attempting to serve as a catalyst for her team’s offense.
“She definitely came in and interjected her intensity and focus into our offense,” said Sailors head coach Hanna Nuss, who moved Shannon to setter for a few matches. “I think she gave them a breath of life and we saw our team turn around and get more consistent. We’ve gone back to Emily Surma setting and Kate back where she belongs (at libero) but it gave everybody a dose of reality and gave Kate a chance to take over the team.”
For Shannon who hadn’t set since middle school, it was a unique challenge. She quickly received plenty of game reps as Columbus played three consecutive five-set matches with her as the quarterback of the offense, including marathon victories over Denver and Jesup.
“It was something new, that’s for sure,” Shannon said. “I had to do whatever it took to hopefully make the team better and change up a few things. I think it pushed our setters in practice to get that spot back and see if we can kind of push to be a better team. ... Being in the front row trying to run offense is pretty intense.”
A foundation for stability as a reliable passer and defender, Shannon has made an impact over her four-year prep career in the back row. The Iowa State volleyball recruit has recorded 1,495 career digs and 229 aces through a stretch of three state tournament runs.
Nuss points out Shannon’s natural instincts and athletic ability often trump form as she’s able to anticipate where an attacker is going. Her digs helped wear down Carroll Kuemper’s towering attackers during a five-set rally en route to last season’s state championship.
“A lot of times she can make up space with just pure athleticism and knowledge,” Nuss said. “It amazes me her ability to read and see the game. Even as a freshman she’s always had that natural reaction, and you can’t teach that.
“She just brings a lot of calmness to a team. It’s rare to see Kate Shannon look overwhelmed or nervous about any game.”
The youngest of three girls, Kate says she learned plenty from her older sisters, Emma and Sydney, who were multi-sport athletes at Columbus. Kate and Sydney were volleyball teammates for two seasons.
“Honestly, at home we’d get into it with each other, but they taught me that you need to work hard all the time and you also have to play as a team with everyone,” Kate recalls. “They taught me to play with fire and intensity.”
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Shannon also carries that intensity onto the softball diamond where she has been a part of multiple state tournament teams as a starter since her eighth-grade year. Softball coach Chris Olmstead is another one of her role models.
“Sometimes playing volleyball I will try to remember his little pep talks,” Shannon said. “Also the girls I play with are outstanding. They’re always trying to get better so it’s really helped me try to do the same thing in volleyball.”
Shannon credits the experience she had with her Six Pack club team, winning tournaments and traveling throughout the nation, as part of her motivation to pursue volleyball beyond high school. Nuss is pleased with how Shannon was able to step out of her comfort zone, play a new position for a couple matches this season and remain a valuable leader throughout.
“The best part is seeing players grow and grow into positions that they’re going to take on later in life,” Nuss said. “Watching Kate grow from a freshman and being timid and seeing her take over and lead this team, as we’ve gone on through this year, she’s grown more and more in practice every day just taking the lead and finding her voice.”
While Shannon has never been part of a Columbus team that has lost a regional match, this year’s bracket may be the most challenging she’s faced.
The Sailors (23-16) open postseason play tonight at La Porte City trying to avenge a previous five-set loss to Union. If they win, they’ll likely face a Center Point-Urbana team that swept them in an early season tournament.
Still, Columbus has reached the last three state tournaments with 15, 13 and eight losses entering the postseason.
“We’re going to have to play for each other and be confident in each other and play to the best of our ability,” Shannon said. “We’re going to have to work as hard as we can, not let anything drop and try to stay positive.”
Beyond high school, Shannon is eager to continue to challenge herself. She says she’d like to fight for a spot in Iowa State’s rotation as a freshman.
“It’s going to be tough, but I’m just going to try to work my best and hopefully I’ll earn that spot,” Shannon said. “I’m going to try to do anything I can to help the team be better.”