By Jeremy McDonald
AURORA, Ore.– North Marion’s Kelsey Richardson has always wanted more. Wanted to challenge herself in new, different ways.
For her, her unique and complicated journey started her freshman year at Gaston High School, about fifteen minutes south of Forest Grove where she got her first taste of High School athletics.
“I remember walking into a gym full of older more experienced players that were ready to eat me alive during tryouts. Although having survived tryouts, I remember Coach (Melody McMaster) calling my name out on the varsity roaster and it was the single most congratulating thing of my entire life,” starts Richardson.
But that wasn’t the end of it. She didn’t want to just make it on Varsity, but to start on Varsity.
“I remember that just making varsity wasn’t enough for me, that I actually wanted to start. I wanted to defeat all odds and be a part of the starting six on a team that already had five solidified spots… fast forward to the end of the season I remember thinking that just one season wasn’t going to be enough for me… I craved more.”
A drive. A passion. A craving to wanting to be the best she can be. The Greyhounds went 17-5 that year in 2A, reaching the first round of the playoffs, but it was during this time Richardson and her family looked around the local club scene and had discovered the NW Power club. So she went in for try-outs for the club and that’s when her path crossed Jackie Arnold’s, who was coaching the 18’s team, for the first time.
And Richardson walked up to her, digging deep for the confidence to ask if she could play on her team…keep in mind Richardson just wrapped up her freshman year.
“With the most confidence I could find within myself I walked right up to her and told her I wanted to play on her highest team,” said Richardson. “Without hesitation she had shot me down and told me no. Jackie in that moment had shot me down but I knew I had to show her that I deserved to be on that team.”
Arnold remembered that day like it was just yesterday.
“She was coming off her Freshman year at Gaston. She was probably the second-best player they had behind a Junior, but was underutilized. She came in with something to prove,” said Arnold. “One of the first things she said to me is “Can I be on the 18’s club team?”. I immediately told her no.
“She’s a freshman and needs to learn a lot of technique and skill in order to play at that level. If she demonstrates throughout the long club season her ability to be coached, put in long hours and showed great improvement I might invite her to practice with my team. She was placed on U16 and played hard.”
Richardson did just that. Halfway through the season, Arnold invited her to practice with the 18’s. Richardson never looked back. Demonstrating that she belonged at with the older girls and continued to push herself to be the best she can be.
The dream was college volleyball. Arnold mentioned to her that only about 4.5-percent of girls playing at the High School/Club level would ever go onto the collegiate level, Richardson wanted to make sure she was one of the selected few.
“Kelsey desired from a young age to move away, play collegiately at a big competitive program. She knew that only 4.5% of all HS female HS/club athletes get to play in college and she wanted to be one of those,” said Arnold. “She practiced and played like an older player. When she struggled to learn something quick, we would butt heads and she soon pushed through. Little did she know how much I believed in her and knew she was going to be one of the best players in the state.”
Richardson trained and put in the extra hours to improve and continue to evolve and developed into the Volleyball player she was becoming, helping the Greyhounds to a sixth-place finish her sophomore year in 2A before transferring to North Marion her Junior Year.
She missed some time her Junior year with the Huskies, but made the most of the opportunity playing alongside Paige Martin and Emma Morcom, Martin and Morcom went on to play college Volleyball at Cardinal Strict and Multnomah University respectively. The Huskies reached the 4A opening round before finally reaching the Elite Eight this past Fall.
But as much as her physical traits on the court were coming to fruition, Richardson had some time to see the game from a different light during her final two prep years.
“One of the biggest highlights and thrilling moments was making it to the elite eight after falling short the year before. despite all odds and all the doubts that the league had for North Marion we were able to take those negatives and turn them into positive energy that fueled our season and state play,” starts Richardson. “My play at North Marion definitely came at a high price, sitting half my junior year was definitely a hard burden to overcome but with all those challenges of being a cheerleader on the sideline for my team I realize that I truly wouldn’t have wanted it to go any other way.
“Sitting out half my junior season truly helped me understand the dynamics of volleyball and team chemistry in a whole new light. With that, when I was finally eligible to join my best friends on the court it was a dream come true and they are memories I won’t forget for the rest of my life.”
And yes, as the old saying goes that hard work does pay off. Working around the clock to improve her craft with the dream of college volleyball had eventually paid off. Her on-the-court and in-the-classroom work helped her get a large stack offer from NAIA Briar Cliff University in Iowa.
The excitement is there, no doubt about it, finally seeing those vivid dreams of playing in college finally becoming a reality. Richardson remembers telling her parents that she wants to be part of a big program, seeing University of Oregon and Stanford highlights. Knowing she can be one of them.
And though Coronavirus has hampered her plans a bit, she’s been hard at work once again trying to improve her craft for what is ahead of her.
“I knew I could be one of those players. After many different visits and club tournaments I finally found my home at Briar Cliff University in Iowa where I plan on continuing my athletic and academic career,” said Richardson. “I am beyond excited to play for such a great group of young women and I’m very excited to see the plan coach Lindsey has in-store for our season. “With college in mind my plans have been slightly set back due to COVID-19. Furthermore, I have used my new found downtime at my house where I have been using the makeshift gym in my garage to continue to train and having the help of my family to continue to get me touches on the ball.”