July 21, 2020 – By NJP

As Katie Bennorth gets ready to Captain the Lakeland Lancers Volleyball team this fall, her perspective on priorities shows her immense maturity. Katie’s first thoughts center around player safety in the new world and how to protect her teammates during the season from a virus that has turned youth sports upside down. A dual sport student athlete, Katie splits her time as both a 3 year varsity track star as well as as a 3 year varsity outside hitter.

Katie knows her academics come first as well. She is an excellent student and goes out of her way to take on other leadership responsibilities at Lakeland. She was Freshman Class President (while at Emma Willard School) and participates in leadership organizations currently on campus such as DECA and LEAP. Somehow, she also fit in a robust club volleyball schedule at SideOut Sports for the 17-National team with a rigorous practice and tournament schedule which requires both local and regional travel.

On the court, she has been a force for the Lancers. As a junior, she posted almost 200 kills and 200 digs while putting up an astounding 76 aces for the season. The ace total placed her fifth in NJ for returning players for the upcoming season and third among rising seniors. She had 79 aces as a sophomore.

The Lancers finished 12-12 last season but have most of their starting varsity players returning as well as some new rising contributors that will position them for success in the new campaign.

Katie possesses a smooth approach and powerful swing on the attack but she can also make some outstanding passes on defense and get to some balls that appear unreachable as evidenced in her videos. Paige Dammers will anchor outside responsibilities along with Katie and watch out for rising senior Precious Star in the middle who slammed back 57 blocks last campaign. Alexis Shabrack will defend as libero and Emily Weinpel will quarterback as setter in a senior laden Lancer team that has great potential for 2020.

Here is our interview with Ms. Bennorth…

Tell us a bit about yourself, Katie?

Hi! My name is Katie Bennorth and I am a rising senior at Lakeland Regional High School in Wanaque, NJ. My graduating year is 2021. I am a three-year varsity starter for my school’s team and I play club for Sideout Sports Volleyball. I currently live at home with my Mom and my Dad works up in Binghamton NY throughout the week.

How long have you played volleyball and what inspired you to take up volleyball initially?

I started playing volleyball in seventh grade, so since I was 12. I got my start in volleyball when my middle school, Tuxedo Park School, encouraged us to take part in the school’s sports teams. From previous recreational experience, I did not enjoy soccer or field hockey so I joined the volleyball team. Instantly my coach, Darren Donaldson, saw potential in me and helped me harness and develop the love I currently hold for the sport. He brought several local club tryouts to my attention and I made the team for Digs-13 Red. This experience introduced me to the technical side of volleyball and allowed me to develop skills for all positions. I had also been doing gymnastics at the time but couldn’t resist filling my time with any other activity then volleyball. My experience in gymnastics did help me obtain a natural rhythm for volleyball as I was used to jumping, being focused, and moving quickly. From that point on I didn’t stop playing volleyball both in school and club.

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What are your metrics/details? Height, vertical, position, club team, etc. What’s your favorite position to play?

I am known to be a shorter Outside Hitter, as I’m only 5’7. My approach jump is about 9’1”. This past season I played on Sideout Sport’s 17-O5-Alli team. My dominant position, as I mentioned before, is OH but I love the thrill of playing defense as well. Many coaches of mine wonder why I am not a setter since I have such nice hands. Of course, I have room to grow both offensively and defensively, but I think my versatility makes me more reliable on the court.

How will your Lakeland high school team do in the upcoming season? Do you have a lot of returning players? What will be the key to success?

I am very excited for the upcoming season granted we have one. We have five returning Varsity seniors- Emily Weinpel, Paige Dammers, Precious Star, Alexis Shabrack, and myself. Our team has impressive upcoming talent as well which is exciting and promising for the future of our team. Girls’ volleyball at Lakeland hasn’t had any major successes in recent years but that is due to us being a younger team. Over the past two years it has been our goal to establish the fundamentals- communication, trust, energy, ambition- to mold us into a dominant team that moves smoothly on the court. I believe our team relies on our enthusiastic energy to be successful, as does any team. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 our preseason has been interrupted so I am unsure of our team’s current position, however I am confident we can build ourselves up quickly. I think a huge facet of Lakeland’s community is making the best of any circumstance we are given and I believe our volleyball team reflects that. As a team, I hope we can return to county semi-finals and progress to make a showing in the finals this year.

Tell us about your teammates at Lakeland. Who do you expect will be this year’s standout and up and coming players?

I absolutely love my team at Lakeland. I transferred in as a sophomore and instantly was welcomed into the community with open arms. The returning varsity seniors will help carry our team significantly this year so I will start with them. Emily Weinpel has shown tremendous growth on the court both technically and mentally since freshman year and is a huge asset to our team. Next, I believe Precious Star is our standout middle as she is a strong force at the net with her blocks and swings. Another standout is Paige Dammers, for she executes crafty and powerful shots that score our team a lot of points. Lastly, Alexis Shabrack is notably very collected in the back row as libero and admirably uses all of her effort to keep the ball in play. There are a few rising players who I believe have amazing potential. Juniors: Riley Catalioto, Rolanda Alvarado, Natalie Rietma, and Beth Barardi. Sophomores: Kaitlyn Van Zile, Emily Ricci, Lisa Star, Julia Maya, and Jordan Carmosino.

NJP considers you as one of the top players in the state. Do you plan on playing in College? (If so, which ones are you looking at?)

I do plan on playing in college, so long as it doesn’t conflict with my education. I have always prioritized academics which has formed me into the dedicated student I am today and I wish to continue that. I am hoping to study business law or business analytics with a minor in psychology. I want a smaller campus in the northeast that provides a reputable education with many opportunities. For a varsity position, I am looking at many NCAA Division 3 schools. I do plan on applying to a couple Ivy Leagues as well so that I can keep my options open.

Which player last season was the toughest competitor that you faced and why?

The toughest team we face every year is Wayne Valley. My teammates and I get very “hyped” the days leading up to this game as they are the team to beat in our conference. I play club with many of the girls on that team so the games are extra fun for me. Our team struggled keeping up with Milicia Rodic, a recent 2020 graduate. Her quick offense and monstrous vertical were difficult to set up a solid defense for. Her incredibly kind and sweet energy radiated both on and off the court which makes her such an admirable athlete. She went on to be Wayne Valley’s student athlete of the year.

You had a monster junior year with 192 kills, 189 digs, and a whopping 76 aces. What are your personal goals for the 2020 season?

My priority for the upcoming season as captain is to ensure everyone is staying safe in light of the pandemic outbreak. It is a very scary and uncertain time and I wish to ease people’s minds while having fun. On a happier note, I hope to instill motivation in my teammates and push people to work harder in practices. Personally, I hope to reclaim my top 10 spot for leading aces in the state and my first team all-county title. I will be working to incorporate different shots into my game and improving my defense throughout preseason and the competitive season. In high school, my offense is notably for stronger attacks, but I want to use the high school season to better prepare myself for playing 18U volleyball. I want to be a part of something bigger than myself so I hope to leave Lakeland with a hungry and motivated team for the 2021 season.

How are you and your family dealing with current world situation with COVID-19? How will the delay in the Fall high school season schedule effect you or your team?

I don’t think anyone could have predicted this is the world we would be living in right now. My family and I have remained healthy without any sickness or disease. I am very thankful both my parents were able to keep working as they were considered essential so we had a stable income. At this point in time, I hope we are able to return to school as I personally love learning in a classroom surrounded by my peers. Since it is my senior year I am saddened that the volleyball season will be shortened but I am thankful there are plans to compete. Though I do not think the delay will affect our playing capabilities, I do know it will make team bonding harder and the environment on the court will not be the same.

Tell us about your high school coach?

Brian Phillips makes me look forward to practices… hands down. He is very dedicated towards building a stronger volleyball program at Lakeland and instills a greater sense of ambition in all of us during games. He is always reliable and communicative with his goals and sharing advice. Brian not only has been an excellent coach but a huge part of my support system. From personal experience, Brian is the type of person who will drop everything if one of his players needs a support system on a good or bad day. Whenever I pass him in the halls he always checks up on me and discusses upcoming games or events. Phillips runs a tight ship during practices yet still makes it fun. His sarcasm and sense of humor always result in me dying of laughter at least once every practice.

Is there a teacher or coach who really helped you along the way?

Jeff Gogates and Katie

The coach who has the most profound impact on me is Jeff Gogates. I was only formally coached by Jeff for the 15U club season, but he still helps coach in practices and privates. Jeff is the type of person who will invest every ounce of energy, emotion, and time into his players. I was playing up an age level while on his team, but he never failed to reassure me I was good enough to play at that level and pushed me to thrive in it. Since the beginning Jeff and I had a great rapport and that has only grown since. His balance of being focused and being comical makes playing for him more fun. His knowledge about the game of volleyball is unmatched and his passion for the sport is inspiring. Anyone who has had the privilege of knowing him or playing with him will instantly feel the same.

Who is your support group?

My small family is an amazing support group for me. My Mom is my rock in this group, for she spends a lot of time and energy getting me to practices, watching my games, and helping me to better myself as an athlete and a person. From gymnastics, to theater, to volleyball she has always supported me to the max and provided me multitudinous opportunities I am very grateful for. My Dad, though he cannot attend every game, is always excited to talk play-by-play of a previous game and makes his best effort to be as involved as he can. My grandpa never fails to be a huge supporter in the stands at home volleyball games and track meets. He and my dad avidly track my stats and brief me on any news in the world of high school sports and professional sports.

Who is your favorite college or pro volleyball player and why?

My favorite collegiate volleyball player is Victoria Garrick. Victoria runs a YouTube channel replete with volleyball drills, discussions about her experience playing for USC, and body positivity videos. Victoria is very open about her performance anxiety and previous eating disorders. Often times I struggle a lot with body image but her inspiring videos help me to love myself more. She has a lot of helpful mental tricks that outline the game in a different perspective then how I usually think about it, which has helped me reading the servers and hitters better. Her content is both informative and comical, making it a daily must-watch for any young volleyball player.

What do you do during the offseason to stay in shape and prepare for next year? (Club team? Workouts? Watch VB vids? Go to College games?) Do you play other sports? (if so, which ones?)

While not playing high school volleyball, I play club volleyball and participate in the school’s indoor and outdoor track team. I compete in long jump, high jump, and triple jump, but triple jump is definitely my favorite. I was shocked at the amount of success I had my sophomore spring season since I had previously trained just for sprinting and hurdles. I managed to get second team all-county for triple jump last spring, jumping 35’1.75” which was a huge accomplishment for me. Other than that, I try to attend local college games and watch high level D1 volleyball on TV. I always love watching the NCAA National Championships- the Florida Gators are my favorite.

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