Kenai's Jamie Peterson returns the ball during a recent game.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Kenai Central senior Jamie Peterson makes up for what she lacks in height with hard work.
When Peterson was in middle school at Nikiski, she stood 5-foot-7 and, as the tallest on the team, played middle hitter.
Problem is, 5-7 was it for Peterson. Today, as an outside hitter for the Kardinals, she still stands 5-7.
Peterson made the move to outside hitter when she transferred to Kenai from Nikiski before her sophomore year.
"She has improved at least 100 percent as an outside hitter because of the work ethic she has," Kenai Central coach Jason Diorec said. "We're both about 5-6, and I knew what I had to do to hit from the outside, so I made her do the same things."
That has meant a lot of conditioning and exercises to increase Peterson's vertical leap.
Diorec was a first-year coach and Peterson was a new player on the team when practice opened in 2003. It took Peterson and Diorec two weeks to get a respect for each other.
"In my preseason, for two weeks I put the girls through some hard-core physical paces," Diorec said. "It's like a boot camp.
"After that, I knew she had a lot of heart."
Peterson said the initial practices with Diorec were a new experience for her, but ultimately a good experience.
"The first week of practice, we didn't even touch a volleyball," Peterson said. "I think that was a test of how much I love volleyball.
"After that, I knew he could give me what I needed as a player and I could give him what he needed as a coach."
Peterson's father, Rudy, said his daughter was passionate about volleyball before meeting Diorec. He also said Diorec brought Peterson's passion to a new level.
"Jason's all volleyball," Rudy said. "He loves the sport and it shows. He ended up dragging Jamie with him."
When Peterson was a sophomore, the Kardinals earned the No. 1 seed from the Southern Division at the Northern Lights Conference tournament, but dropped their first two games at the conference tournament to miss the state tournament.
Last year, Kenai went into the conference tournament with the No. 2 seed, but ended up taking third place to make the state tournament. Peterson earned first-team all-conference honors. At the state tournament, Kenai took sixth place out of eight teams, with Peterson earning all-state honors.
Diorec said one thing that sets Peterson apart is her propensity for making big plays.
"She likes tense situations," he said. "She likes to be depended on. I think she always likes to be depended on by her friends, even off the court. That's part of her personality."
The Kardinals wanted last year's run at state to pave the way for more success this season, and so far it has. Kenai will be the No. 1 seed from the Southern Division when the Northern Lights Conference tournament opens play Thursday at Soldotna High School.
"Jason's been good at developing her as an individual, but he also really pushes the team effort, which is nice," Rudy said. "Very seldom do you go out in the world on your own."
After the high school season is over, Peterson is hoping to make Team Alaska and compete in the Arctic Winter Games. If she does make Team Alaska, she will not be able to play basketball for the Kardinals. She has been a varsity basketball player at Kenai since her sophomore year.
Kenai girls basketball coach Lee Moore has known Peterson since he coached her as a fourth-grader in Nikiski Youth Basketball.
"She's always been one of the hardest workers on the floor," Moore said. "To be honest, she's not unathletic, but she's never been the most athletically gifted person on the floor. That never stopped her."
Moore said Peterson has a knack for getting clutch rebounds and also has developed a few nice moves in the low post.
"I'd be absolutely thrilled to see her make the team," Moore said of the Games' quest of Peterson. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her.
"I'd hate to see her not play basketball, but I'd hate even more for her to want to get on this team and not make it."
Peterson is not sure about her future in volleyball after high school. She is a solid student at Kenai, getting all A's with a few B's while taking all the honors classes she can.
"With my mom, I have to do well in school," Peterson said, referring to Donna Peterson, who is the superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
Peterson would like to study architecture in college, but she's not sure what that means for her volleyball career.
"It's really hard because I have pretty high academic standards for myself," Peterson said. "The schools with good architecture programs are Division I schools."
Peterson does not think too many Division I schools are in the market for a 5-7 outside hitter, but Diorec vows to try as hard as he can to get a coach to give Peterson a look as a defensive specialist.
One way or another, Peterson expects to be playing some form of volleyball next year.
"She loves this sport as much as I do," Diorec said. "She'll play this sport as long as she is physically able to play it."
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