FARMER CITY, Ill. -- Before signing her Letter of Intent for Jacksonville State, Kaitlyn Zelhart gave a speech thanking all of her fans for their support during her years with the Blue Ridge volleyball program.
In the middle of her speech, she needed a moment to pause as she broke down in tears. To anyone who has comforted Zelhart after her Lady Knights lost a match, it should have been a familiar sight.
Only this time, she cried tears of joy and appreciation.
"I really didn't want to cry," Zelhart said. "I knew that I would, though, because I'm very emotional. It was really tough to thank all of them like that. It was scary."
Prior to her speech, both of Zelhart's high school coaches (Deb Leisner and Evan Miles, pictured below) got a chance to speak. Leisner, who coached Zelhart in junior high and during her first two years of high school, recalled a story of frustration from when the seventh-grade volleyball team played in regionals.
The team was playing without Jordan Wheeler, who was out with an injury, and could not make much noise in the tournament. That did not sit well with Zelhart.
"I actually ended up crying on the court because I was so frustrated with everyone," Zelhart said. "I knew we were going to lose, and I didn't want to lose. It's just one of those stories."
Leisner went on to talk about how much she enjoyed watching Zelhart grow up through junior high and her first two high school years.
During her high school career with the Lady Knights, she became the first player in school history to record over 1,000 kills. The official game ball with which she got the 1,000th kill was signed by members of the Blue Ridge volleyball team and on the same table where she signed the Letter of Intent.
In Zelhart's senior year, she was named as a member of the Heart of Illinois Conference's first team and nominated an All-Area team member by the News-Gazette.
"It's definitely been an amazing experience, and I could never replace it," Zelhart said. "I thank all my fans and everything because I could never do it without them."
Next year, she will be a freshman for the Jacksonville State Gamecocks, who underwent a coaching change since Zelhart's visit to the campus.
Rick Nold left the Gamecocks last spring to take a vacant head coaching position at Auburn. Joseph Goodson replaced him on July 7.
Despite the coaching change, Zelhart said she looks forward to taking her talents to the Jacksonville State campus, where she will study physical therapy. JSU is located in the state of Alabama, nine hours away from the Farmer City, Ill., area.
"When I went down and visited there, I really liked the campus and the coaches and everything," Zelhart said. "I knew I wanted to go there when I got there. It was nice. I think it's going to be really scary just because it's nine hours away, but I think I'll get used to it. I'll definitely have to come home because I'll miss everyone. That's definitely the scariest part."
Zelhart said she will not participate in any elite volleyball clubs prior to her freshman year at Jacksonville State due to concerns over a shoulder injury. She needed to have surgery performed on March 18 for a torn labrum.
"I'm hoping to strengthen it and get back and hopefully make an impact on the [JSU] program when I get there," Zelhart said.