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Bishop’s volleyball supported by the best

The fate of the girls volleyball team at The Bishop’s School starts, quite literally, with Laurel Casey. A 5-foot, 6-inch senior, Casey plays the libero position for the Knights, which puts her in the middle of the action on almost every play. It hasn’t hurt her team that she is one of the best at her position in San Diego County.

“Number one, she’s strong,” Bishop’s coach Tod Mattox said. “She’s just athletic and strong with a lot of lower-body strength. She can bend and pushes off the floor well. You watch her play, and she makes dynamic, fast, athletic moves.

“She’s feisty - she gets mad when the ball lands on the floor on our side of the court. At times, she can be challenging because she’s so feisty, but that’s what makes her so good, too. She wants to win, and wants to compete. She wants to do well and wants her team to do well.”

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So far, that approach has worked wonders for Casey and the Knights. Entering the week of Oct. 22, they were 17-8 this season and had gone 3-1 in Coastal League South play. The Knights are a consistent contender for post-season play at the CIF and state levels, but have even higher expectations this season. Casey has been a big part of that.

At the libero, she is in position to receive nearly every serve, and thus has a big impact on each offensive play. In one recent game against top-ranked Santa Fe Christian, she passed on 30 of a possible 58 serves, and did so extremely effectively, Mattox said.

“We put her in the middle of our serve-receive alignment, so we want her to take every serve she can,” he said. “In five of our six rotations, she’s there, and we basically say, ‘You’re in the middle of the court - if you can get your hands on it, we want you to get it.’ ”

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Casey agreed that her position is a critical one, not only because she makes first contact so often, but because of the intangible effect she has on the team and her teammates.

“The libero position is tough because you have to be the leader of the team,” she said. “It’s just me and one other girl who are on the court the whole time, so I have to have a consistently positive attitude. I set the tone for the team.”

Casey is a three-sport athlete at Bishop’s - she plays soccer in the winter and switched mid-way through high school from softball to track in the spring - but volleyball has become her main focus. She didn’t start playing the sport until her freshman year at Bishop’s, but now plays year-round, either with the Knights or her club team. Because she’s so dedicated to the game, she is hoping this season can be a special one for the Knights. They entered the week ranked No. 6 in the county, and have been inching up the rankings as the season has progressed.

They expect to compete with Santa Fe Christian and Francis Parker for the league title, the CIF crown and the two spots afforded the San Diego Section for the state tournament. Their case could be helped by a three-game sweep over Santa Fe Christian in early October, which came less than a week after a loss to the Eagles in a tournament match and just days after the Eagles had attained the No. 1 ranking in the county. “After the tournament, we came together and talked about some of the things we noticed about them - we watched a lot of tape and went over their tendencies before the game, and I think the result definitely showed how hard we worked,” Casey said. “After that win, we feel we can compete with anybody.” Casey and Mattox both believe that testing themselves early in the season against tough teams will pay off as the post-season approaches.

“We’re playing challenging teams and a challenging schedule, so we’re happy with how we’re doing,” Mattox said. “Because our system is a little more complex than others, it’s taken us a little longer to gel. But we’re just starting to put it together.”

While Casey is focusing her attention currently on her high school career, she is also eager to start her college career. She has committed to play at Yale.

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Casey had been to the Connecticut campus for summer volleyball camps early in high school, and forged a relationship with the coach there. She loved the setting, the school’s outstanding academic reputation and, of course, its women’s volleyball program.

“I just like everything about the program and the school,” Casey said.