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February 13, 2014

Florence's Verhagen staying cool under pressure, making most of recruitment process

In his pitch to perspective volleyball programs, Florence (Ariz.) High head coach Casey Simon bolded seven words when describing senior middle blocker/opposite Kaitlin Verhagen.

She is a diamond in the rough

Seven simple words, and yet they are the most fitting when it comes to Verhagen.

The six-foot standout sparkled on the hardwood in 2013, leading the Gophers in blocks (83) to go along with career-highs in kills (290), kill percentage (42.5), aces (74) and digs (34).

Acting often as her team's first line of defense and last line of offense, Verhagen proved she has the talent, the athleticism and the versatility to play at the next level.

"She has quick footwork and is diverse," Simon said. "Kaitlin efficiently runs 31's, 32's, 1's, pumps, slides and faster tempo slides. She has great footwork and led us in kill percentage and blocking. She reads well and is currently swing blocking. Kaitlin serves very well and plays solid defense. She has a very nice, well-paced, jump float serve."

While all of her on-court traits speak to a player that is mature beyond her years, it's her leadership skills that truly set Verhagen apart.

"I feel like my leadership matured the most from junior to senior season," Verhagen said. "I was a leader on the court my junior year, because the position that I was in required that. As a middle blocker, you have to be a leader because you're a big part in the front row. As a senior, though, I was one of only three on the team. My leadership just skyrocketed and my team could really depend on me. When anyone was ever in a rut, they could always go to me. It's something I really tried to work on."

Those intangibles combined with a stellar senior campaign are a big reason why Division I and Division II schools -- Dixie State, Eastern Washington University, Erksine, Highland University, Minot University Trevecca, Western Colorado -- continue to show interest in the soon-to-be Florence graduate.

"It's very exciting," said Verhagen of the recruitment process. "I've always thought that I would go to college to play volleyball and that it'd be so much fun. Now that I'm getting looks, it's exciting but at the same time overwhelming in a good way. It's crazy that all these people are interested in me and are coming to watch me play."

It might be overwhelming, but like she showed during the Division III state tournament, Verhagen is cool under pressure. It doesn't hurt, either, that she has quite a resource helping her every step of the way.

Verhagen's older brother, Jeremy, was a dominant 6-foot-11 center for Florence before graduating and moving on to Northern Colorado after the 2012-13 season. And the siblings have not been shy when it comes to going back and forth about the recruitment process.

"I really enjoy it," said Verhagen. "Having a brother go to an amazing Division I program has put positive pressure on me. It just pushes me to be better and to get to his level if not higher. I love being from an athletic family. It's really, really fun.

"It's cool, because now he and I have another thing in common. He can tell me how his recruiting conversations went, and I can tell him how my conversations with coaches are going. He can give me advice too on ways to talk to coaches and open my eyes to things in the process that maybe I don't have experience in."

Even with some sibling guidance in her corner, Verhagen appears to have the type of head on her shoulders not common of student athletes her age.

When asked how she's simplifying what can be a very difficult process to navigate, Verhagen quickly pointed to her academic pursuits and passions outside the volleyball court as determining factors.

"I'm trying to go to school to be an orthopedic surgeon," said Verhagen, who currently is active in Florence High's student council. "I want to go to a place that offers the schooling that I need. Hopefully, that place has pre-med or has a major that fulfills certain requirements, so I can go through all the classes I need to take as an undergraduate. That should narrow it down a bit for me."

Truth be told, when Verhagen finally does decide on what lucky school she'd like to attend next fall, it won't just be getting an athletic asset but a dynamite student in the classroom, as well.

A true diamond in the rough, indeed.




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