Former Eagle Valley volleyball star Kenzie Shreeve to be inducted into University of Northern Colorado hall of fame on Jan. 28
"It was a site to behold, because it was collegiate-level hitting in a small-town high school gymnasium.”
A May 11, 2005 profile on then Eagle Valley senior Kenzie Shreeve inquired of the four-year varsity volleyball star, “OK, you’re 30: What have you done (college, job, kids etc.), where do you live and what do you do?” The answer: “Graduated from UNC, married with two kids and living somewhere warm.”
Shreeve was almost perfectly prescient. The 35-year-old married mother of two girls (who, to her credit, was in fact living in Arizona at 29 with her husband, James, but now lives in Eagle) left out one detail: a hall-of-fame-worthy career at the University of Northern Colorado. On Jan. 28, the 2009 Big Sky Conference tournament MVP will be inducted with her conference championship-winning teammates into the UNC hall of fame.
Karl Talcott, who hitched his wagon to the Kenzie train and coached the third of four Shreeve sisters from 2001-2004, said he knew, even then, he might someday get a sports reporter’s phone call for this story.
“I really did. When she’s leading the state in kills and aces as a sophomore, you know you’ve got a generational player, without question,” he said from St. Paul, where he now coaches elite junior athletes at Minnesota Select.
“I still get to be around that level of talent on occasion, and when I’m coaching young kids, I bring up those stories about people like Kenzie specifically a lot,” he continued.
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“I’ll say, ‘I had this player who would do this,’ and it would be a story about where she started, how she got better and how she could take over a match.”
Shreeve grew up in an athletic-minded family of four girls. Though her parents didn’t play collegiate sports, they towed Jennifer, Mindy, Kenzie and Lauren to various softball games and community sports events at Eagle Town Park. The influence rubbed off.
“I played every sport,” Kenzie recalled.
“That’s kind of how I described myself growing up. I was known as the athlete. I knew at a young age that I wanted to play somewhere, I just wasn’t sure where.” All four girls played volleyball and basketball, and Kenzie also ran the 400 and 800-meters and did the high jump in track — a wide-ranging, demanding meet schedule betraying an aspect of her athletic prowess. She truly separated herself from her mountain-town peers when playing on the volleyball court, however, and proved to be at another level.
“I remember her being a player who made an immediate impact as a freshman,” Talcott said. The running joke was that she was the tallest defensive specialist during her first season, but by her sophomore year, she found stardom as an outside hitter.
“That’s where I really found a love for the game again,” Shreeve said of the position shift. “It was like a totally different world for me. From there, I really grew.” A dynamic and integral starter, the underclassmen would guide a strong senior core to the 2002 state tournament.
“We could tell she was a talent and we built a lot of our offensive around her … and she delivered,” Talcott summarized, adding that Shreeve enabled him to flip the script when it came to choosing possession at the start of games.
“I think he saw more in me than anyone ever did. I’ll still say to this day, besides my college coach, he was the best coach I ever had,” Shreeve said of Talcott. “He found out how to really coach me. He knew that if he put the pressure all on me, I performed 10 times better. He just made me the athlete I was.”
The Devils graduated significant height before Shreeve’s senior year, when she was being recruited by more than 40 college programs. “She was bearing quite a load,” Talcott remembered, adding that Shreeve received 50% of the sets — from all corners of the court. Before her final prep contest, the Cortez coach remarked to Talcott after scouting Eagle Valley, “I don’t know how we’re going to stop her…she attacks from everywhere.”
No longer afforded the opportunity to unleash the beast mode in games, she now enjoys scratching her competitive itch by working with her niece, Zakia, a sophomore for Eagle Valley, whenever she can.
“I miss that part of my life,” Shreeve admitted.
Big Sky breakthroughs
Shreeve’s accomplishments at the University of Northern Colorado, which made the jump to Division I during her 2005 freshman season, are impressive. As a junior, she became the school’s first All-Big Sky Conference first-team selection. She ended her senior campaign as the Big Sky Conference tournament MVP and graduated as the school’s DI-era all-time leader in kills (she is still fourth with 1230), capping her resume off with UNC’s female athlete of the year award. Given her successes at Eagle Valley — and eventual NCAA honors — it might seem like a surprise to find out Shreeve almost never made it to her second collegiate season.
“It was a huge awakening for me,” Shreeve, who remembers feeling like a small fish in a big pond, said of her freshman year. “When you go to college, it’s basically like your job. And having to handle all of that, keeping up with school — that was hard my freshman year. And I almost quit.”
“She was shy and lacked confidence, but she had size, a big arm, a good support system at home and just enough grit to keep her going,” stated her UNC coach Lyndsey Oates, who remembers multiple moments where her inexperienced underclassman wanted to just give it all up.
“She battled injuries and managed the volleyball schedule with academics, but I am so proud of her for working through it. She is absolutely a success story. I tell her story almost every year to a young player who is in her shoes.”
Shreeve redshirted her second year. “That year, I was able to take the stress of the game off of me, but I was able to still practice with my teammates and make them better while I was getting better,” she said. “That year was definitely a growing year for me.”
She suited up in 2007 and led the team in kills (365), attacks (1152), serve percentage (1.000), points(400.5) and points per game (3.51). On a team that finished fourth in the conference tournament, she was one of six Bears players to contest all of Northern Colorado’s 114 games. The accolades already mentioned poured in during 2008. Going into 2009, Shreeve poured every ounce into ensuring her final season would be magnificent.
“I put in so much extra work that year and then at the end, to have that be the biggest year for us and end the way it did….I think that’s just the biggest thing for me,” she answered when asked to name the element she’s most of proud of over the scope of her collegiate career.
“She really began to see her own potential before her senior year,” stated Oates, who put Shreeve through early-morning 3-on-1 drills before the fifth-year leader would lift weights alongside the men’s basketball team.
“She got more fit and played more aggressive. I told her she was capable of being the conference MVP. By the end of that off-season I think she believed it and it became a reality at the Big Sky Tournament.”
The Bears took down Northern Arizona 3-1, Eastern Washington 3-2 and Portland State 3-1 to claim the school’s first conference tournament title. Shreeve had 28 kills in the four-match victory, including the game-winner — a story-book ending moment she said she occasionally still pulls up and watches.
“It’s just such an amazing feeling,” she reminisced.
Still, her fondest memories don’t involve awards or any specific play per se. What sticks out are the team trip to China, the karaoke team-bonding nights at Oates’ house or hay rides at the coaches’ parents place were more important. She can’t recall all the season win-loss records, but she still remembers how the team looked forward to their favorite restaurants during road trips.
“I think the biggest things are the friendships I made when I was there. I think that’s the best thing of the whole experience — the relationships you make,” Shreeve said.
The transcendent impact of thousands of sets and tens of thousands of practices, however, does live on.
“I would say always working together as a team was a huge thing,” Shreeve, now the infant/toddler coordinator for Eagle County Schools, answered when asked how sports shaped her.
“I’m the type of boss that if I have to make a big decision, I like to reach out and get their opinions before I make a rational decision. I like to see thoughts from everyone and I think that’s the biggest thing. Without certain parts of the game, I wouldn’t have been successful.”
Her legacy — at both schools — lives on as well.
“Her MVP picture is right outside my office and I look at it everyday,” Oates stated. “Stories like Kenzie are why I coach. I truly believe that working through the adversity in her college career changed the course of her life because she proved to herself that she could overcome anything.”