La PORTE — For the first time in four years, Reilly Briggs and Kara Cooper aren't on La Porte's volleyball team.
The potent front row players have graduated and sophomore Aniya Kennedy is aiming to help replace them. Not only that, she's embracing the challenge of becoming the Slicers' primary hitter and spearheading the team to another prolific campaign.
“As I'm getting older, I feel like I've challenged myself more,” Kennedy said. “And this is just another challenge, going onto the next three years I have at this school.”
Kennedy, who didn't start playing competitive volleyball until she was 13 years old, made an immediate impact for La Porte last year as a freshman.
She was second on the team in both kills and blocks with 195 and 68, respectively, to go along with 47 solo blocks. She was another reason why the squad finished with a 26-4 record, including a Duneland Athletic Conference crown with an unblemished 14-0 mark.
Ever since she began playing the sport seriously, Kennedy knew she wanted to play volleyball in high school.
"It's really rewarding that I get to play on a team with all these good girls that have all kinds of talents," she said. "It's really fun."
Slicers coach Cassie Holmquest is most impressed with Kennedy's athletic ability and versatility. She anticipates her having a much larger role in 2019 following the departure of the two formidable hitters.
“We're just going to try to utilize her more, get her the ball a lot more,” Holmquest said. “Move her around a little bit, see where we can get the most use out of her.”
Kennedy will play outside hitter, in addition to middle blocker in the front row this season.
The 6-foot Kennedy isn't fazed by essentially having to take over as the front-row player for Briggs and Cooper.
“I just plan on doing the same thing I did last year, but stepping it up,” she said. “Getting better, limiting the mistakes I have.”
Kennedy believes her physical gifts as well as her connection with her La Porte teammates is of utmost importance.
“The fact I can jump high and I have a lot of power, they help because it helps bring the team's energy up,” she added. “If I score a point and if anyone on the team scores a point, we all have energy for each other, so it's a good bond we have.”
To prepare for the season, Kennedy participated in open gyms with teammates three times a week. In addition, she played on the Dunes Club's 15U Black Team from late November to June.
"I feel like it's another practice for me, so it helps me build my stamina again," Kennedy said of club volleyball. "And work on things I probably wouldn't work on here, just so I can get better at them."
She was also part of the Slicers' fifth straight sectional-title winning girls tennis team in the spring, playing at No. 2 doubles with Molly Reed.
Besides blossoming on the tennis and volleyball courts, Kennedy flourishes in the classroom as well.
Last year, she received all As on both report cards in her first year in high school. Kennedy views schoolwork as a vital part of her life.
"I do academics just as much as I play volleyball," she said. "It's very important. It's even more important than volleyball, to be studying hard in school."
Her coach highlighted her affable, humorous demeanor off the floor.
"She's a super nice kid," Holmquest said. "She's very nice, very friendly. She's actually pretty funny. She has a funny, kind of quirky personality. She's a fun kid to be around."
While Kennedy can fool around with her teammates and coaches, she focuses in when it's time to work.
She said an unmatched work ethic can translate to success for the squad.
"We work hard and we're going to keep working hard until the very end," Kennedy said. "We're going to try our hardest and see how far we go."