By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

McNary senior Valerie Diede has wanted to play volleyball in college for as long as she can remember.

“I think I always knew I wanted to play in college, pretty much ever since I was little,” Diede said. “I always looked up to the big girls. We would go to U of O games and I would always love watching them. I knew I loved playing volleyball so why not play in college.”

On Wednesday, Nov. 8, Diede officially became one of those “big girls,” signing with the University of Hartford, a Division I program in Connecticut.

But Diede didn’t pick Hartford just because of its Division I status.

“It’s not so much that it’s Division-I. Yes, it’s cool that it is but it was all about the school and that it felt like it was the right fit for me,” Diede said.

Diede committed to the Hawks more than a year ago after visiting the campus the summer before her junior year. Hartford was the only school she visited.

“I was talking to other schools but I didn’t get to that point,” Diede said. “I just really liked that school (Hartford) and I knew that’s where I wanted to go. The coaches were really welcoming and just walking around there, I could see myself going there and the academics are really good and it was just everything I wanted.”

Diede got in touch with Mitch Kallick, the head volleyball coach at Hartford, through her club coach at North Pacific Juniors—Adam Ellis.

Committing to Hartford so early, allowed Diede to relax and enjoy her junior and senior volleyball seasons.

“I don’t have to worry about filling out all of this information. I didn’t have to look into colleges or worry about how much money I’m going to spend for it,” Diede said.

“At tournaments, I don’t have to worry about the pressure of getting recruited.”

Deide, a middle blocker, made the McNary varsity team as a freshman. Her junior and senior seasons were her favorites.

“Our team really connected well,” Diede said. “We were all just really close and the teammates were just amazing and really fun to play with.”

Diede had three different head coaches at McNary—Kellie Scholl, Bruce Myers and Crystal DeMello.

“They all really pushed me and they encouraged me and they were all amazing people,” Diede said. “It’s learning different coaching styles and learning how to adapt to that.”

Diede made an impression on DeMello as a player who never stopped working even though she’d already committed to play in college.

“Val is a fantastic leader and I definitely lucked out getting her when she’s established herself as a player,” DeMello said. “She not only led statically but she’s just a positive vibe on the court. She has so much energy it’s contagious. I appreciate that about her. I appreciate that she’s willing to continue to work just as hard if not harder than everyone else in order to set the example and I think that’s a big reason why she ended up reaching her goals ultimately and setting herself up to be a Division I player.”

Diede’s leadership shown even when she wasn’t on the court after suffering a concussion and missing a few games during the middle of her senior season.

“Even though she wasn’t on the court she still contributed,” DeMello said. “She would sit right at the front of the bench. She would talk to the front row players, tell them where to hit. Her role changed because she wasn’t on the court but her influence over the team didn’t change. They still respected her. She’d jump into the timeouts, talked to them and that is just amazing to have someone who can analyze the game even though they’re still a player.”

Diede, who was voted First Team all-conference, led McNary in both total blocks (62) and hitting efficiency (.397).  She also had 118 kills.

Diede said she didn’t plan on going to school so far away from home but she has cousins that live close to the university. She wants to be a ultrasound technician.

“They’re a private school and they have a really good medical program,” Diede said. “Once, I saw that, I knew it was right.”