Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
BROOMFIELD — A move to another state at 16 years of age could wipe a smile off almost anyone’s face.
Thanks to volleyball, however, Holy Family’s Rachel Siurek has managed to find plenty of joyful moments in the 15 months she’s been in Colorado.
Joining a Tigers team that was supposed to be good last year and backed that up with an appearance in the Class 4A state championship match, the senior felt comfortable almost right from the start and continues to be a key factor in Holy Family’s bid to repeat a run towards the Denver Coliseum.
The left-handed swinging outside hitter is a joy to watch, too, giving the Tigers a smart-yet-powerful attacker that can throw opponents a little out of whack.
Leaving longtime friends back in Lenexa, Kan., was tough — understandably when you’re going into your final two years of high school and hope to graduate with those people. But for Siurek, the move to Broomfield also meant departing from a volleyball team at St. James Academy that was one of the country’s best squads — a Kansas state champion team that went 46-1 her sophomore year.
She wasn’t a starter, and in fact two of her teammates went on to Stanford and won the NCAA title as freshmen last season, but it was a unique experience few can relate to.
When she found out her father had gotten a new job that was going to bring here to Colorado, she was flooded with emotions. Coming from a Catholic school, the choice to attend Holy Family was pretty straightforward. And to help involve herself with new people right away, volleyball was her ‘in’.
“It was really difficult at first, but volleyball just made it so much easier honestly. It helped me in the transition and helped me get on my feet quickly,” Siurek said after Monday’s practice. “I still struggle sometimes missing my old friends, but this has been really nice and … home is where volleyball is for me, pretty much.”
It only took a couple of practices before the rest of her new teammates, along with head coach Krista Solomon, knew they were getting a ‘plus’ player, someone that could read defenses and was almost as good at placing shots as she was just slamming a hit with authority.
Most of all, her teammates and her coaches recognized her positive attitude right from the start.
“Our team is super competitive, and she showed right away she wasn’t some ‘girly-girl’ — she was super in-it-to-win-it,” senior Julia Giltner said. “She brings energy, she’s firey … and I really think we would not have made the championship last year without her.”
“She’s done a good job of building relationships, and to the credit of the girls already here they did a great job of welcoming her in,” Solomon added. “She showed she was a standout on the court, but it’s a tribute to her and them that they focused on those relationships first. It made everything so much easier.”
During last season’s somewhat surprising run to the 4A title game, Siurek was a calming presence on the big stage. The Coliseum’s setup was still a whirlwind kind of situation for Siurek — “state in Kansas isn’t near what it is in Colorado,” she said, “but being in that win-or-you’re-out kind of situation, I kind of like that pressure” — but she excelled in every match leading up to the contest against Lewis-Palmer. In 16 sets played at the tournament, she totaled 64 kills and hit at her best clip of the entire year.
This season, as the Tigers have jumped out to a 14-2 record and have the inside track to the Tri-Valley League title (8-0 having lost just two sets), Siurek has been getting more swings in and making them count. In TVL competition, she is averaging 2.77 kills per set and overall in 2017 she is the team’s second leading attacker with 130 kills.
One just doesn’t see a lot of lefties in the game, and Siurek has definitely learned how to use that to her advantage.
“As a lefty, I think it makes blockers think a little bit differently because they are just used to lining up on the other shoulder,” said Siurek, who has committed to Regis University. “Being on the outside, it’s different and it’s a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge.”
“It’s an adjustment for our setting, but it’s also nice for our defense to see that in practice and get used to reading,” Solomon added. “On the outside, especially, when we see a lefty it doesn’t quite shock you as much. That’s on the serve, too.”
Siurek still pays attention to what her old team at St. James is doing, and again the Thunder are excelling at 23-3. She is definitely trying to keep up with old friends back in Lenexa, too.
But it’s easy to see the success of the Tigers helping Siurek keep a smile on her face.
“We use our success to drive us, and we know we have a lot expected of us but we just let that go when we get in the gym,” Siurek said. “We have six seniors on the team, and we want to make sure we put everything we have out on the court.”