Late to the sport, she still excels

Mallory Kiley didn't play on a team until eighth grade. Now, she leads the Hurricanes.

Published October 22, 2006

PALM HARBOR - Palm Harbor University coach Tara Kuk first got a glimpse of Mallory Kiley when the Hurricanes' middle hitter was an eighth-grader playing pickup volleyball on a sand court near the school.

"You could see her athleticism," Kuk said. "I knew she had potential."

What Kuk didn't know was that Kiley had no experience playing organized volleyball.

"When I was young I played soccer, basketball, and I swam," Kiley said. "Pretty much everything."

Everything, that is, except volleyball.

"I just found that out," Kuk said.

And while Kuk might not have been privy to Kiley's history with the sport, Kuk is fully aware of Kiley's importance to the team. The junior leads the team in kills and is second in blocks and digs. Kiley was named MVP of the 23rd annual Keswick Invitational this year, a tournament the Hurricanes have won a record four straight years.

"She's become so much more confident (the last three years)," Kuk said. "And her game has been raised because of it."

Kiley said her two older brothers played a large part in her competitive development. Although she admits to being "all girly with pink and dolls and stuff," when she was young, Kiley said trying to beat her siblings proved valuable experience.

"Playing against them was motivation for me to get better," she said. "I just wanted to be as good as I could be."

Kiley has also taken on a leadership role this year. Palm Harbor graduated eight seniors from last year's team, leaving Kiley, setter Sydney Miller and outside hitter Margo Sultenfuss as the most experienced returners.

"I knew coming into the year that the team would be looking to me (for leadership)," Kiley said. "It's a role I've accepted."

After beating East Lake in the district semifinals, the Hurricanes lost to Clearwater in the finals but earned a spot in Tuesday's region quarterfinals.

Their reward? No. 1-ranked Plant on the road, a team that knocked PHU out of the postseason last year.

"We've had some ups and downs this year, but with the win against East Lake, we're real excited to play Tuesday," Kiley said. "I think we're peaking at right time."

Brandon Wright can be reached at bwright@sptimes.com.