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Northside's Aleah Keaton is the reigning Blue Ridge District player of the year, and she's still only a sophomore
The Roanoke Times | File 2012
Northside's Aleah Keaton was the Blue Ridge District volleyball player of the year as a freshman last season.
The Roanoke Times | File June
Northside’s Annie McGowan (261) hands off the baton to Aleah Keaton in the 1,600 relay at the VHSL Group AA outdoor track and field championships at Harrisonburg High School. The Vikings won the race after having won the 400 relay earlier in the day.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
High school athletes are expected to demonstrate annual improvement. That begs a question.
Do reigning district players of the year earn some sort of dispensation?
Apparently not, but Aleah Keaton doesn’t need one anyway. Northside’s sophomore volleyball star and the 2012 Blue Ridge District player of the year has continued on the torrid pace she set last year.
“She’s a team player,” Northside coach Amy Crawford said. “She does whatever she can to not just make herself better but also her team.”
Both objectives are on pace so far. Keaton is playing better than ever and the Vikings started the week 14-4, 5-0 in the Blue Ridge District. That despite Keaton working her way through a challenging change of position.
“I moved from the middle to outside,” she said. “The timing’s really different. It’s been kind of weird trying to adjust to it. I think I’ll get it around the middle of the season.”
Right back to that continuous improvement thing. All systems are go. She’s leading the Vikings in kills with 251 and is second in digs with 139 while transitioning into an expanded role.
“We talked in the offseason about what would be best for her in the long run,” Crawford said. “She’s a fantastic middle hitter and still is. We still use her some at middle out of our serve-receive and out of other rotations. We had the personnel to move to the middle with Alexis Hueston coming back from an injury. So we felt like the move would be great for our team and great for Aleah, too.”
Keaton is 5-foot-9, not particularly tall for a middle. She made up for it last year , her outstanding athletic ability negat ing matchup issues.
“To be a good middle hitter, your team has to have great passing,” Crawford said. “We have a good passing team, but when you’re outside, you can be used a whole lot more. You’re more versatile.”
The expanded offensive role is in conjunction with more defensive responsibilities as well.
“I do a lot of defense from the back row now,” Keaton said. “I’m moving all the way around now and not just staying in one position on the front row. I get more passes and I also have more of an opportunity to hit from the back row. That makes it a lot better.”
The question is how much better is this going to make Northside?
Pretty much, it looks like. With seven seniors including Taylor Price (124 kills) and classmates Katelyn Bowden and Carly Altizer (combined 79 service aces) mixing with strong underclassmen such as freshman Hueston and Keaton, the Vikings won their first five district matches without losing a game.
Northside still has some work to do against some of the Timesland powerhouses such as Cave Spring, which topped the Vikings 3-1 on Sept. 5, but clearly progress is being made.
Keaton made her athletic progress with input from coaches as well as family.
Her mother, Cindy, played volleyball in her high school days at old Fieldale-Collinsville and inspired the daughter to take up the sport when she was a seventh-grader. Father Anthony Keaton played football at Northside, and her uncle David Keaton ran track there, part of the reason she became interested in track, her other sport.
She’s got a future there as well. Last spring she was part of the Vikings’ Group AA champion 400 and 1,600-meter relay teams.
Asked to state a preference between volleyball and track, Keaton’s as light on her feet as she is in either of the sports. She likes them both, she says, and would be happy to participate in either one at the collegiate level if she is so fortunate as to have the opportunity.
She’ll have the opportunity, assuming she continues to improve.
Given her development to this point, assuming additional gains are to come is not a risky leap of faith .
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