Standing at a towering 6-foot-1, senior middle blocker and outside hitter Kate Thoene stands at the front of the net, her knees bent and eyes directly on the ball as it bobs up and down on the other side of net.
Thoene, the tallest player on the volleyball team, has been a force on the front line for the past four years. She leads the team with 228 kills this season and has been among the team leaders in that category for the past two seasons.
Senior right side hitter and middle blocker Liz Previte said Thoene’s height benefits her as a blocker and hitter.
“Kate is a wall at the net,” she said. “Our passers benefit from it because they know anything that’s coming to her hands, she is putting back to the floor.”
Thoene said though she enjoys hitting, her favorite shot is getting a block that shoots the ball straight down with no chance for the other team to save the ball.
“Giving one of those at a crucial point in the game is probably the best feeling because it really changes the momentum,” she said. “Not only does it pump your team up, but it brings the other team down.”
Previte said Thoene is able to get inside her opponents’ heads because she can elevate and prevent the easy spike.
“A lot of the times the blocks don’t affect her because she hits right over them,” she said.
Thoene said the Bombers’ strategy is to set to the middle as much as possible, which gives her more hitting opportunities than in past seasons.
While Thoene has put up consistently high numbers for the Bombers in all four seasons on South Hill, volleyball is not the only activity she has had experience with. Thoene was a dancer for 14 years. She took ballet, tap and jazz lessons through her freshman year of high school.
Thoene said she is not a natural athlete, and volleyball has been the one sport she has found a knack for.
“I tried my luck at basketball and I was really bad,” she said. “I’m kind of a one trick pony when it comes to sports. Volleyball is really the only thing I can do.”
Thoene tried out for the volleyball team during her freshman year at Voorhees High School in High Bridge, N.J. Soon after she started playing volleyball, she realized her height could be an asset rather than a burden.
“I’m too tall to be a dancer, so once I realized that I wouldn’t be able to take it any further, I switched gears,” she said.
Thoene said her height was a disadvantage in ballet because it involved finesse rather than power.
“You have to be small to do lifts, and it’s a lot harder on your body to do point dancing when you are bigger,” she said.
Thoene said her high school teammates gave her the affectionate nickname “tree” to describe her height advantage. She said since she started college, she has prided herself in being tall.
“When you’re tall, people notice when you walk into a room because you are kind of hard to miss,” she said. “If you’re confident and present yourself instead of slouching and
pretending to be short, people will respect that a lot more.”
Head Coach Janet Donovan said Thoene needs to work on building her confidence on the court.
“Kate’s biggest thing is getting her to believe in herself, that she can really dominate at this level,” she said. “She is still learning how to do that.”
Thoene is not a naturally competitive person when she’s away from the volleyball team and dislikes individual sports like golf. She said her favorite aspect of volleyball is the team dynamic.
“You completely depend on your teammates,” she said. “The back row players depend on your blocking, the setters depend on the passers and I depend on the setters,” she said.
Previte said Thoene always knows how to maintain a positive attitude on the court, which motivates the Bombers to push through long matches.
“She knows when to be serious and when to motivate people, and there’s other times when you can laugh and joke around,” she said. “She has a very good balance of that.”