Letter of intent signing worth the struggles for Kelly

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CJ Kelly overcame injuries during her senior season to sign on to play volleyball at New England College

By Michael Hicks

One won’t find C.J. Kelly atop the statistics. That was not the Clear Creek senior’s role as one of two team captains for the volleyball program in 2016. She was, however, respected and looked up to by her peers. Now they have another reason to look up to her — she’s off to play college volleyball.

Clear Creek High honored Kelly on Feb. 1 — National Signing Day — at a ceremony announcing her intentions to play for New England College in Henniker, N.H., in the fall.

“(C.J.’s) been a wonderful part of our community more than just being a volleyball player,” Clear Creek athletic director David Schuessler commented during the signing ceremony.

The outside hitter will be an integral part of the Lady Pilgrims’ program, which will debut this season under head coach Mark Thomas. Thomas first approached Kelly about the possibility of coming to the school, located about 90 minutes northwest of Boston, last summer while she played for her Juggernauts club program in Denver.

Kelly, who also has played baseball and basketball at Clear Creek, began playing volleyball in fifth grade. She was inspired by her sister, Charlie, and cousin, Shianne Smith. As a team captain, she wanted to help inspire her teammates to be better players as well.

“I tried just to focus on working as hard as I could during the drills and do as much as I could. I think that inspired a lot of other players to do the same,” Kelly said.

They saw that inspiration first-hand when Kelly, who played just 52 sets her senior season, accumulating 33 kills, 10 assisted blocks and four digs, battled her way back from a multitude of injuries.

“She’s not a woman of a lot of words, but she is a woman of action,” Clear Creek head coach Karin Thomsen said. “She has had, even as a senior, back injuries, and she sprained her ankles. She struggled physically. There were many nights after her recovery that she stayed in the gym trying to get back to where she was.”

Kelly was in Clear Creek’s starting lineup, but she lost that position while she was sidelined.

“It was important to her to get it back. She put in the time and the effort and proved herself,” Thomsen said.

“Volleyball has always been really important to me,” said Kelly, who admitted she was devastated when she first lost her starting position. “I knew that I wanted to get back in there, and I wanted to start again. I would stay after practices as much as I could and work with a private coach as often as I could. I just tried to get as much done as I could.”

Kelly plans to double major in business and art at New England, while building a program that will just be getting started when she steps foot on campus in the fall.

“I’m excited to help build the program and hopefully start it off strong,” Kelly said. “Hopefully the volleyball program can build for years and years to come.”

Contact Michael Hicks, sports editor, at 303-350-1047 or sports@evergreenco.com. Follow on Twitter @MHicks12571.