Before Osage senior outside hitter Kelsey Havel takes the court for a match, she meets assistant coach Marin Thorson on the sideline for a handshake.
“Kelsey is obviously our go-to, a lot of athletes in that position find it a lot of pressure to constantly perform at a high level,” Thorson said. “So Coach (Andie) Olson told me, ‘I need Kelsey to loosen up before matches.’ She would always take everything on our shoulders in years past, but she didn’t want to be that way this year. How can I make this happen? A handshake is what came to mind, started at a weekend tournament and then it just kind of stuck.”
The handshake has grown over time through weight-room jokes and practice shenanigans, so when Havel takes the court for the state semifinals, it’s an extensive routine.
Thorson and Havel tell the story of her senior season, starting with simple handshake high-five and fist-bump gestures, to a fake phone call and finally, a home run, which Havel knocks out of the “park.”
Just a few seconds later, Havel rises from the ground and pulls her elbow back to crank out a swift, powerful swing, knocking down the first of many kills she will have this match.
Composure. Consistency. Leadership.
Havel has it all, which is why she is the Globe Gazette’s 2017 Volleyball Player of the Year.
Havel finished the season with 334 kills on a 0.322 efficiency, reaching the 1,000 career kills mark on Sept. 30. She finished her career with 1,196 kills and 972 digs after the state semifinals.
“I think she’s the player of 3A,” Olson said. “I really feel like this year she’s taken a different role on our team as a leader that you can’t teach kids. The kids look up to her a lot and she realizes that now more than she ever has. So, I think she’s taken that but not been arrogant about it, not over the top at all, just a proud volleyball mom moment.”
The numbers speak for themselves. Havel is the ideal outside hitter, a go-to for the kill on any set and the second-best defensive player on the back row. Havel’s 234 digs this season show her versatility, and are representative of a highly dynamic Osage team: a group of girls who can do anything.
But you wouldn’t know unless you saw her take the court. Havel embodies the classic humble-star athlete. She gives all the credit to her team after Osage won its first match over Tipton at the state tournament.
“The team that we have right now is unbelievable,” Havel said. “We have people that fill every spot and people that work hard in practice against us and just I always have somebody behind me I can count on and a great setter amazing blockers. It’s just a well-oiled team that we have and that has helped us this season.”
Her confidence and composure permeates the court, which is what helped Osage maintain a stable mindset throughout the season. The Green Devils weren’t the loudest, most celebratory team on the court, but they got the job done.
“We expect it, you expect to put the ball down every time you get it,” Havel said. “It’s a mindset you just want to get going and go to the next one. It’s kind of our team; we’re not super peppy people, but we’re definitely competitive.”
Havel has a mind for the game. She can read defenses and plant the ball at any angle, making her extremely unpredictable. Her sharp or deep cross hits are her strong suit, but in the regional final against Forest City, Havel knew she had to change it up.
“They left us quite a bit of line, so I definitely had a lot of shots I could work with, which showed obviously in the match,” Havel said.
It’s that intelligence that makes her coachable, able to fix her own errors and improve. And she’ll tell you exactly what was going on in her post-match interview.
“Well there was a few times where I definitely left too early and contacted it too high and it flew out of bounds,” Havel said after the state quarterfinal. “As a player and as a coach we noticed that so Olson let me know so I could focus on that in my next swings.”
It’s that kind of humility that makes Havel a good team leader. Osage was a highly dynamic team this year, taking a lot off of Havel’s shoulders, but at the end of the day, she held all the pieces together.
“She’s the person that coaches dream about in this game,” Thorson said. “To watch her in the weight room, her mental fortitude of what needs to be done, that’s what it is. That’s what your other athletes to see and look up to.”