The temperature soared on the football field at Peve Stadium Tuesday afternoon, where the two-time defending state champion Blue Springs High School Wildcats were preparing for Friday's season opener against Staley.
However, it was much cooler inside the high school, where Alicia Starr and her Blue Springs volleyball teammates were putting the finishing touches on a team that is expected to be among the top finishers in the Suburban Big Six this fall.
But Starr is certainly used to playing in the heat. She joined friend and Lee’s Summit High School volleyball player Emma Lock (the sister of Drew Lock, one of the top-rated prep quarterbacks in the country and a University of Missouri recruit) in a local sand volleyball league that saw them finish first in the metro area. They also earned a spot at the Junior Beach National Volleyball Tournament in Milwaukee, where they finished 13th out of 40 teams.
“I love sand volleyball,” said Starr, a 6-foot-1 front-row standout who is expected to be a leader both on and off the court for coach Katie Grusing’s Wildcats this fall. “It makes for a busy summer with all the school volleyball camps, club ball and the sand league. But when you love something, you don't even think about how much time you spend doing it. I'd rather be playing on the sand or in a gym than anything.”
Grusing encouraged Starr to participate in the sand league for many reasons.
“Sand volleyball is so much different than the six-man volleyball we play in high school,” Grusing said after the lengthy afternoon practice session. “You have two players, and when you just have two players, you have to be more aggressive and smarter – you have to figure out ways to score offensively.
“I think that by playing sand volleyball, Alicia is going to be a more creative player this season. It’s been fun watching her grow and develop as a player and a leader on this team.
“We asked her to be a leader last year, and she might not have been ready for that new role. But she grew as a leader as the season went on, and we certainly look at her as a leader this year.”
Starr enjoyed a memorable freshman season, teaming with her sister Bri, a member of The Examiner’s all-area team who is now playing volleyball at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C.
“I never felt like I played in Bri’s shadow,” said Alicia, referring to her sister’s great success as a Wildcat. “We really enjoyed the season where we got to play on the same team.
“Now, I just want to do what I can do to help the team. I’m not going to try and be Bri, I’m just going to do my best to get better and better each season.”
And does that include playing sand volleyball?
“I never really thought of it that way, but I guess it does,” Starr said. “It’s so different – you don’t wear knee pads, or shoes. You just play barefoot, and it’s harder to play in the sand than it is in a gym. It’s a different kind of volleyball, but I think just playing any type of volleyball is going to make you a better player.”
And the first-place showing in the metro area and 13th-place national ranking was just an added bonus.
“If you play, you want to win,” she said, “but Emma and I played because we wanted to have fun. And we had a lot of fun.”