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Last fall, Santiam Christian captured its first state volleyball title since 2014 and did so without a single senior on the team.

With almost the exact same group back this season, the Eagles have built on that championship foundation and have been on a tear to start the year. SC (15-0) did not drop a set during its first 12 matches and swept No. 2-ranked Creswell in a massive road victory last week.

At the heart of the Eagles’ success this season and last has been senior Kassie Staton, a dynamic outside hitter who earned first team all-league and first team all-state tournament honors in 2018. She is a team captain for the Eagles this season and has formed a lights-out duo with junior outside hitter Emily Bourne as SC builds on the momentum of last year’s title run.

“It’s been really good, especially for team bonding,” Staton said. “We’ve been like a family. We washed the slate clean after last season and we’re working even harder this year because we have even more competition.”

Before she became an inspirational leader for a title-winning team, Staton had to overcome the rejection that many athletes deal with. In the sixth and seventh grade, she didn’t make the cut for her middle school ‘A’ team and had to play on the lower-level team.

She was in love with volleyball and had been playing club ball since age 11, but all of her friends were playing a level above her for a team that was loaded with talented players.

“I remember her seventh-grade year and I coached that higher-level team, just the devastation that came when I had to tell her that she didn’t make that team,” SC coach Kelli Fitzpatrick said. “That was her goal, she wanted to play volleyball. To see where she has come, it’s out of this world. It’s been one of the things that I’m most proud of as a coach.”

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Rather than let the frustration and doubt take the joy of the game from her, Staton focused on getting better however she could.

“It was hard for me when I was a kid,” Staton said. “I was just like, ‘I don’t understand why I can’t be on the A team.’ I practiced as much as the other girls and I worked hard and I wanted to play up. But I just kept being told no. It just kind of made me want to become a really good player and get better and improve myself and my parents kept telling me to not give up.”

Over the next few seasons, she worked with a personal trainer to gain strength and ignored those who told her she might be better off playing a different sport. Her freshman year, she made SC’s varsity team and Fitzpatrick remembers immediately seeing the improvement that Staton had made.

“It’s not just skill-wise and ability where she has come, but her attitude and her confidence are amazing,” Fitzpatrick said. “She just pushed herself harder and became more focused and more disciplined and it has absolutely paid off.”

She quickly developed into one of the top players in 3A, earning first-team all-league honors during her sophomore season, before racking up all-league and all-state honors last season. Staton has signed to play collegiately at George Fox University next season.

“The faith foundation that they have is very similar to SC,” Staton said. “That matters a lot to me. And also that team, it feels like a family, just like this one. They were instantly loving and they just opened up to me as a player.”

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