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December 31, 2012 | 02:38 PM
WALWORTH — Two years ago, Katarina Rotta moved to Walworth from Harvard, Ill., for academic and personal reasons.

Already a volleyball queen, the academically-gifted Big Foot senior was looking for more of a challenge in the classroom.

She may have sacrificed a friendship or two, but in the end, Rotta, 17, gained a second family — the Lady Chiefs volleyball squad.

Playing alongside current college stars Annie Kunes and Meghan Schneider along with Sydney Racky, Mackenzie Long, Amy Schryver and others, Rotta has sparked nearly 90 wins in two seasons and the school's first trip to state in 2011.

A quarterback on the court, the all-state setter has to know when, where and how soft to hit the ball to one of her outside attackers. While not a traditional multi-sport athlete, Rotta's flawless performance on the court speaks for itself.

An old-school tactic, the eye test, says the long, 5-foot-11 superstar is the best volleyball player in the area. In 2012, she was named Rock Valley South Conference player of the year and earned second team all-state honors.

To become good at volleyball, you must play it tirelessly year-round.

Rotta plays club ball in the high school offseason, and her hard work hasn't gone unnoticed. For her efforts, Rotta, a Division 1 recruit headed to Southeast Missouri State, is the 2012 Lake Geneva Regional News Female Athlete of the Year.

Rotta sat down with the Regional News Dec. 27 at Big Foot High School to reflect on a memorable 2012.

RN: Why is volleyball a year-round commitment?

KR: It's a sport where you if you don't touch a ball for a week, it feels like you took two months off. I had to choose volleyball at one point, in seventh grade. If you want to be great, you have to commit to it completely.

RN: Where did you grow up?

KR: My mom's from Germany, and she came over here when she was 21. She met my dad in the Chicago area. They tried living in Germany, but my dad couldn't learn the language. They moved to Harvard and had my sister in 1987. Seven and a half years later, they had me, so I always say I was the mistake (laughs). They say they planned it. I was named after German olympian Katarina Witt.

RN: Why did you come to Big Foot?

KR: I knew some people here, and we heard the academics were very challenging. My mom wants me to be pushed. I'm happy I'm here, but I'm happy I grew up in Harvard. My best friend from eighth grade left for Marian Central (Woodstock, Ill.), so there was nothing keeping me there. I never thought I would leave Harvard. It's a different culture down there. The biggest shock was how nice and new this school is. I was in awe.

RN: How was volleyball in Harvard?

KR: My sister played multiple Sports. When she played volleyball, I sat in on her practices. I was the little ball girl. I would hit the ball against the wall, and that's how I learned. The coach down there was with Fusion (Rotta's club team). My first year playing, I was a DS (defensive specialist). I wanted to set, but I was too tiny. I played as a freshman on varsity, and we went to state. I got so much experience.

RN: Why do you love volleyball?

KR: It's a passion of mine. It's a way to get my mind off everything, but it's the center of my life. If you things aren't going good in volleyball, people will know about it. You're a family, and it's fast-paced, loud and exciting. The best feeling is giving a good set and allowing my teammates to just pound it.

RN: Take me through your club career.

KR: I was on the second team at first. Since then, I've been on Black, or the 1's (top) team. I just recently made 18U 1's. I've been on the Black teams for 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and now 18.

RN: Have you ever caught a ball with your face?

KR: When I dig the line, it's a short distance. That's so scary. We always say, GYG, or guard your grill. I learned that in club. We don't want to get hit in the face.

RN: How was the transition to Big Foot academically?

KR: My first term, I was freaking out. I had no idea how to teach myself how to study. I had the hardest classes. As soon as I understood things, I was back to getting A's and AB's. Out of all the teachers, I go to Coach Roehl (JV volleyball coach) if I have a problem. My grades are a high priority.

RN: How was the transition to Big Foot volleyball?

KR: I was super scared at first. I knew Mackenzie, Annie and Meghan, but I wasn't close with them. I remember meeting Coach Stelling (Jen Koplitz), and I was shaking. I had never been forced to meet new people like that. We all had volleyball in common, though. Annie was in my first class. That made it much easier. Also, me and the volleyball girls had gone to the beach and football games before school even started.

RN: How amazing was going to state as a junior with Big Foot?

KR: I didn't understand how big of a deal it was to be the first team at a school to go to state. I was so happy because I helped these girls accomplish their dream. That team was the best team that I have ever played on. They were the nicest, most genuine group of girls. Annie and Meghan were perfect leaders and captains.

RN: Explain the leadership process as a setter.

KR: It's an unspoken rule that the setter can call plays. I was always OK listening to the older girls. I knew I had to lead on the court, not necessarily with my words. If I don't say anything, they will hit a basic play. If I want to run something different, I will give them a little hand signal or say something. I would hide signs behind my shirt sometimes.

RN: What was the difference this past year?

KR: I was named captain. I knew it was my turn to do what Annie did and get the same atmosphere. Right away, I talked with coach about the season and strategies. We knew we didn't have as many hitting options. It was going to be me finding Sydney first then Amy. Then, we had to establish other hitters. Everyone we threw in did an awesome job. Mikaela was a setter for club but a hitter here. Everyone was selfless and played where the team needed them. As a senior, you get a weird amount of respect. I had to be more vocal this year.

RN: Was it difficult to not make state again this fall (Big Foot lost in sect. semis)?

KR: I talk to the football guys about this. I like to think it's over, and we can't change it. I learned a lot this year, and I grew as a player. I think (Madison) Edgewood scouted us well. They keyed on Sydney, and their coach was in our heads. I hate to say it, but they were the better team.

RN: Was the recruitment process smooth?

KR: I didn't think I would be recruited because I'm not tall enough. My hopes were down at one point. When I got the offer from SEMO, I was so happy. A year ago, I visited North Florida University. They said it came down to me and another girl, but she had an inch or two on me.

When I committed, I was so relieved. I felt bad for my mom, because she carried a videocamera to every game. Club, high school, everything. You have to start getting yourself on film as soon as possible.

RN: Was it SEMO all the way?

KR: There was North Florida and also University of North Carolina-Asheville. Asheville wanted to offer a scholarship, but they run a 6-2. I don't think you can gel if you have two setters switching off. I had to turn them down. When I was at Harvard, I would stop looking at colleges if they had red colors. Now, I love red because of Big Foot. SEMO has red, too, so it's weird.

RN: Where were you when it was official?

KR: I was at Sydney Racky's house and Mackenzie (Long) was there, and we were making T-shirts. It was the middle of the summer. I got a call from a college coach, and she said she wanted to offer me a full ride. My mouth dropped. I got off the phone, ran out of the room screaming. I'm in tears, and we have a video of it on my phone. I didn't accept right away, but after seeing them play in a tournament, I knew SEMO was where I wanted to go. I called a couple days later. It was all worth it.

RN: Why are you going so far away?

KR: My mom is a flight attendant, so she can fly everywhere. I didn't want to wake up, and my mom is in my dorm room. SEMO is two hours away from an airport, so I have a two-hour warning no matter what.

RN: What is your dream job?

KR: I want to study elementary education, and my dream is a third-grade teacher in South Carolina. I have family there, and every time I'm there, I don't want to leave. When you're a teacher, you're helping kids and I love kids. It seems rewarding.

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