SAND ROCK – There was a time Sand Rock senior Caley Garrett had her heart set on being a hitter in volleyball, but her small stature just wasn’t going to allow it.
Instead, Sand Rock coaches Lisa Bates and Johnny Howell had something else in mind for Garrett.
“They played me at libero for the first time ever in the seventh grade, just for one game,” Garrett recalled. “I was like ‘I don’t know about this.’ In ninth grade, we had a summer play date and they were like, ‘We want you to wear this (libero) jersey instead of this one.’ I had never played the position before, so I was a little nervous about it.
“When I got up on varsity with my best friend Victoria Collum, she really brought me into it. Playing it on varsity my first year I was very scared. All these big girls were hitting at me, but I fell in love with it very quickly. I definitely could tell that was for me.”
Things have worked out so well for Garrett at the libero position that she’s now shattering dig records.
Over the weekend in the Champions Academy Tournament at Alexandria, Garrett eclipsed 2,000 digs for her career. Her milestone dig came in the Lady Wildcats’ win over Hokes Bluff.
Following Monday night’s split with Geraldine and Fyffe, Garrett now has 2,130 career digs.
“I couldn’t have done any of it without my teammates. It’s so exciting,” Garrett said. “I hope some other (Sand Rock) girl gets to that (milestone) because that was my goal. I saw who our top leader was, and I wanted to beat them. I just have the mindset that whoever the top one is I’m going to be right there with them or ahead of them. I’ve always had that mindset. Mrs. Bates teaches us all the time to have that kind of mindset, to always be first.”
And not just first in a statistical category either. Bates says Garrett is all about the team’s success on the court.
“She’s a great teammate,” Bates said. “Yeah, she cares about how many digs she gets, but that’s her job. She cares about how the team does and wants the team to do well. She’s very competitive.
“Caley plays a position that’s tough and does not get all the glory. She gets pretty much no other stats. She serves, might get some aces and may get an assist or two, but that’s her thing. At first she was like ‘aw’ but she’s really taken on that role and flown with it when she realized how good she could be at it. She has really good reaction time. She has super ability to read people and where the ball is going to go. She just gets there. She’s done a phenomenal job being a libero for us.”
Both Garrett and Bates realize it’s a blessing for her to even play volleyball this season. That’s because she suffered a serious right knee injury last basketball season which required surgery and months of rehab.
But Bates said Garrett hasn’t missed a beat on the back row post surgery.
“She may limp a little bit here and there, and it may look like she’s favoring it some, but it doesn’t stop her from getting to them (balls),” she said. “Some teams have tested her, trying to make her move. I think she’s passed their tests. I think she’s really getting to everything we’ve expected her to.
“She really worked hard to come back from that injury. She did exactly what the doctors told her to do at rehab. There were times she had some tears with me, and I would have to say no. She felt like she could get back out there, but it was just too early. She wanted to come back strong so badly.”
Garrett said her knee injury is always in the back of her mind, but she tries not to think about it when she’s on the court.
“I know I scare my mama half to death all the time. Every time I dive, Mrs. Bates is like ‘Are you all right?’ I’m like ‘I’m fine.’ It is scary for me definitely, but it doesn’t hurt me as bad in volleyball, I guess because I didn’t get injured in volleyball. I’m just not as scared, but I always have it in the back of my head. I just try to play and don’t think about it. I’m like ‘It won’t happen if I don’t think about it.’
Bates said Garrett’s teammates have taken notice of her hard work to make it back on the court this year. Seeing how she plays makes them want to elevate their game even more, Bates said.
“At the beginning of the year, watching her play makes you play harder because you have to. Her play demands you play harder, you diving on the floor. Her performance demands high-level effort from everybody. I think that helps us as a team,” Bates said.
And, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. The Lady Wildcats have compiled a 21-5 record so far this season.
“She is a huge part of our success as a team,” Bates said. “To get to those assists, to get to those kills we’re getting, it’s got to be dug up by somebody. She does that for us. That’s a huge part of our success as a team. She helps a whole lot with chemistry.”
It’s all in an effort to finish this volleyball season strong, Garrett said.
“I always give it 110 percent, that’s for sure,” she said. “I don’t ever want to let a ball hit the floor. You play every play like it’s your last. I know how that feels to not be able to do that. You just never know. It can happen just like that. I’m never going to just let it fall.”