One of the hardest parts about being a senior student athlete is seeing the final season come to an end. It can be emotional, especially for those who played a sport most of their lives. Last week, I reached out to Olivia McCall to talk about her experience.

McCall was a defensive specialist for Shakopee’s volleyball team, starting at the libero position. Like many of her teammates, she started playing in kindergarten at SACS and never stopped.

“Seven out of the nine seniors on this year’s team have been playing together since SACS,” she told me. “A lot of the really good volleyball players who played in Shakopee started out at SACS. They started when they were young, and that’s why Shakopee is usually very good.”

In addition to teaching skills and techniques, the youth program introduced players to the game at the high school level. It inspired many of them to want to play varsity when they got older.

“Volleyball was the first sport that really interested me,” McCall said. “Everyone at our games, the fans, the coaches, the players, the parents, were really into it, which made it very exciting. Then, after our games, we would go watch the varsity team play, and that was exciting too.”

Spending so much time on the court with her teammates paid off this year. The players developed a sense of awareness of where the others would be on the court, and they reacted accordingly.

“We had chemistry and we were strong. We started out beating top-ranked teams because they were still working out the knots and building chemistry. We already had it,” McCall said. “By playing together, we learned each other’s strengths and would know which side was best for each player to hit the ball from. It helped me know where to place the ball. We had so much trust in each other. We always knew where someone was going to be.”

The team faced some obstacles toward the end of the season and unfortunately, did not qualify for the state tournament. McCall summed up the season by calling it “unexpected.”

“It was unexpected because we beat some teams that people didn’t think we could beat, then had losses to teams we were expected to beat,” she explained. “We also had unexpected injuries and had to make some changes.”

Although the season is over, skills and friendships she developed are assets she can take into adulthood. For example, being on a tight-knit team led to confidence building and conflict resolution skills.

“We had strong communication on and off the court. As part of that, we would tell each other what we could do to help one another,” McCall said. “In Eagan, we had some conflict, which every team will eventually have, and some attitude about how we handled a tough situation and a loss. We got together and explained to each other how someone’s attitude was affecting the rest of the team. We noticed a change after that.”

She also played on teams for the Northern Lights volleyball organization in Burnsville that allowed her to compete against national talent in tournaments in places like Orlando, Kansas City, and Omaha. But it was the Shakopee teams that built the close friendships.

“Some of my favorite moments from the high school season were the tourneys, especially the one Shakopee hosted. We had breakfasts before the games where everyone brought something in,” she said. “I also really liked being with my friends before the games in the locker room. We would be talking, dancing, and getting pumped up.”

The players continue to chat regularly on their social media channel. Next spring, several players and their families are planning to go on spring break together.

“A lot of hours of my life were spent playing volleyball. That’s a lot of time to spend with friends because they were always there with me,” McCall said. “We learned to work hard for others and not just for ourselves. We had a saying, ‘For the team.’ We were sometimes together seven hours a day with practice, lifting, eating lunches, and team bonding. If you’re tired or sore, you say, ‘I’m going to keep going for the team.’”

With the season over, McCall started a job at Buffalo Wild Wings in Savage to save money for college. She will probably attend the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, or the University of St. Thomas to study pre-law and minor in Spanish. Her career goal is

to become an attorney specializing in international law or patent law.

She’s also planning to volunteer more time fostering dogs, which she started doing during Christmas break of her sophomore year. For a week or two at a time, she trains, feeds, and helps restore the health of shy or scared dogs that may have been abandoned or abused before they are adopted.

“I just love dogs and I love taking care of them,” she said.

Brett Martin is a columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.