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Haller perseveres to continue volleyball career

Cody Thorn
Special to The Examiner
Kaitlyn Haller, second from left, poses with her mother Jennifer Zeller, grandmother Sandra Zeller and father Jon Zeller after receiving an all-region plaque for her play with Metropolitan Community College last fall. Haller, a Blue Springs graduate, will move on to play for Ottawa University in Kansas this fall.

In a few weeks, Kaitlyn Haller will move from her home in Blue Springs to Ottawa, Kansas, to continue her volleyball career at Ottawa University.

There were a few times in recent years she wondered if she would even play college volleyball, let alone have a chance to play for two different colleges.

The Blue Springs High School graduate wrapped up her playing career at Metropolitan Community College this past fall, but prior to the season had convinced herself this would be it for her playing career.

It turns out it wasn’t – again.

“I was going to be done playing at MCC, just to focus on my educational goals rather than my athletic goals,” said the 5-foot-10 outside hitter. “Ottawa was so persistent and kept reaching out to me almost every single tournament. I went down there and I took a tour. I fell in love with the program.

“When I got to the last regional game, I realized I wasn’t ready to let this go. I didn’t want to be done. It really pushed me to keep doing what I love to do.”

Haller played volleyball for three years at Blue Springs South but transferred to Blue Springs her senior season. She didn’t play volleyball for the Wildcats, rather sitting out the year but she quickly realized how much she missed the sport.

“That break really shows you how much you miss it,” Haller said. “Especially since I’m a coach and referee too. Being around volleyball made me want to play it and I pushed my last year to get in contact with MCC. I learned my passion. You can’t give up what you love to do the most. It sucked to sit out a year but I was playing club ball, so I wasn’t completely out.”

Despite her year “retirement” she garnered interest from MCC coach Rob Kaleikau, who had seen her play with Highlands Performance. Haller’s club coach, Marie Geiger, stressed that she shouldn’t give up on playing volleyball and give up the dream of playing in college despite her rather newness to the sport.

Haller didn’t start playing volleyball until her eighth grade year at Moreland Ridge Middle School, making the B team. She worked hard the summer before her freshman year to improve and landed on the junior varsity team for the Jaguars.

She found a sport she loved the most and the years of juggling softball, soccer, tumbling and gymnastics were done.

“My parents (Jon and Jennifer Zeller) have been my biggest supporters and my biggest fans through all of this,” Haller said. “They have allowed me to experiment with multiple different sports until I found a sport that I loved the most, which is volleyball.”

She said the coaching of Teresa Neely (Moreland Ridge) and Ron Goins (Blue Springs South) helped make her a better player. Her final year of high school volleyball – as a junior at Blue Springs South – she floated between JV and varsity for a team that went 31-4-1 and reached the Class 4 state quarterfinals.

Haller put up good numbers for the Wolves in her two years, posting 432 kills, 487 digs, 359 assists, 51 blocks and 36 aces this past fall. As a freshman, she had 132 kills, 623 assists, 32 aces, 273 digs and 29 blocks.

The Wolves reached the regional final this year but lost to Kirkwood Community College. Haller, for her role, made the all-region team.

“Katilyn is a strong front row power hitter, right and left side,” Kaleikau said. “She is a solid defense and passing player for back row play. She’s a solid setter also in running an offense and is an intense competitor. As a left-handed hitter she will do well at the next level with her all around versatility.”

During a trip to Coffeyville, Kansas, this year, Ottawa assistant coach Kenna Hill talked to Haller after a game and expressed interest in her coming to the NAIA school.

Haller had it in her mind she would attend Central Missouri and just focus on getting her elementary education major. Then other schools, like Baker and Graceland, wanted Haller to come play volleyball as well.

“It was kind of cool to see,” she said of the recruitment. “It was fun to know as a volleyball player, I’m good enough to get looks.”

She is joining both of Ottawa’s volleyball teams – indoor and sand volleyball.

Ottawa reached the NAIA National Tournament this past fall, going 1-3 in pool play. The Braves lost to eventual national champion Marian in that round. Ottawa finished 24-17 last year in the seventh year for coach Melissa Blessington.

This spring was the debut season for sand volleyball at Ottawa and the Braves were 1-6 before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the abrupt end to season after a March 9 match against Nebraska.

Haller had a chance to practice sand volleyball with her future teammates this spring. She noted she often plays coed sand volleyball at Centerline Beach Volleyball in Blue Springs or Beach Volleyball Kansas City near Martin City. Haller returned to the sand courts three weeks ago once state regulations were relaxed.

She is scheduled to arrive at Ottawa on Aug. 3 and practice starts a week later.

Haller, when not playing beach volleyball this summer, could also be coaching her youth team – Wild Things Volleyball Club's 17-1s. The club, run by former MCC-Longview coach Mitch Sell, asked MCC players to coach teams in the summer. Haller was an assistant her first year and moved up to the head coach of the 16-1s team last year. The 2020 season has yet to start but he is hoping it does soon.

“I have stuck with the girls since my freshman year,” Haller said. “It was fun to see the girls grow. I get to see what the girls can grasp and what they can do and what they can work on. I guess I always knew I wanted to coach. Mitch just happened to help me take that next step.”