Lee’s Summit West High School senior Taylor Sandbothe doesn’t consider herself much of an athlete. Others would probably disagree.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
Nevertheless, after growing eight inches in the 12 months prior to her freshman year, Sandbothe felt she owed it to herself to give sports a try.
But which one? Basketball wasn’t an option — “I have no hand-eye coordination,” she said. Soccer and softball didn’t seem to interest her, either.
That left only volleyball.
“I walked out on the (volleyball) court, and they threw me in the middle to be a blocker,” Sandbothe said. “I’ve been there ever since.”
Sandbothe found her calling, and the Titans have reaped the rewards. Three years later, Lee’s Summit West is headed to the Class 4 state tournament for the second straight season. The Titans will face Ozark in a semifinal match Friday at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
They wouldn’t be there without Sandbothe, who has quickly developed into one of the state’s premiere middle blockers — a far cry from her one-dimensional freshman season.
“She’s always been a good blocker, but she’s improved a lot with her shots,” LS West setter Bailey Katzfey said. “Her weakness was she didn’t know what shots to hit, so she wasn’t the same offensive weapon she is today. I’ve seen her go from that to a true Division I athlete.”
Indeed, Sandbothe in March committed to play volleyball next year at Ohio state, which is currently ranked in the NCAA’s top 20.
In addition to her raw talent and long, 6-foot-2 frame, Sandbothe is a perfect fit in coach Lori Hanaway’s attacking scheme, which centers the offense around middle blockers. It makes for an unusual style for high school teams — few have the middle blockers to make it work — but then again, most high school programs don’t have Sandbothe and teammate Madi Mosier working the middle of the court.
“When you establish the middle, you start working (on the outside), and then everything opens up,” Hanaway said. “We’ve adapted really well to that philosophy. We definitely have the personnel for it.”
The Titans aren’t a particularly deep team — they use only a seven-player rotation to fill the six spots on the court.
And for once, they’re no longer the favorites. Lee’s Summit West, 33-4, was the overwhelming choice to emerge from its sectional tournament last weekend, but that won’t be the case once the team arrives in Cape Girardeau.
While the Titans have already defeated Ozark in a tournament earlier this season, Lafayette (Wildwood) is waiting on the other side of the Class 4 bracket. Lafayette has yet to drop a set during its state title defense this season.
Lafayette also swept Lee’s Summit West in a September tournament.
“It was good to have that target on our backs, but now going to state, it’s a little more relaxed,” Sandbothe said. “We’re exactly where we wanted to be, and now we can just relax and play.
“Everyone favors Lafayette to win, but we’re not the same team (we were) the first time we played them.”