Power hitter

Photo by Jim PetersElise Swistek averaged over 12 kills per match last season for New Prairie as the Cougars advanced to the Class 3A semistate. The junior outside hitter verbally committed to Valparaiso University last month.

NEW CARLISLE — Recent studies suggest kids are giving up sports at earlier ages, the result of a variety of factors, notably burnout.

There's no such word in Elise Swistek's vocabulary. The New Prairie junior has been all volleyball, all the time, since she was about 5 and there's yet to be a hint of overload.

"That's my life," Swistek said. "I'm too busy to have a job. Volleyball takes over. Once this ends, Dunes (Club) starts. There are times when I'm tired and I just want to go home, but once I'm (in the gym), I'm fine. I enjoy it."

Dawn Swistek, Elise's mom and a former player whose career was cut short by a torn ACL, was already coaching volleyball at Westville Middle School when Elise was little.

"I would always go to practices and watch," Elise said. "It interested me. I wanted to try it and I really liked it. I stuck with it."

There was kiddie kickers soccer and a few grade school years when she played travel softball, but those quickly came and went. Despite Swistek's natural size, strength and athleticism, basketball was never in the equation, other than with her brothers in the driveway.

The one-sport route wasn't New Prairie coach Jordan Staus's path in high school. While she thinks kids have become too specialized, Swistek's singular athletic focus resulted in an advanced volleyball IQ that gives Staus another voice on the court. It was that way even last year when Swistek, as a sophomore, was a captain. She's started varsity from the day she first stepped on the high school floor.

"Young kids are definitely more prepared especially if they're playing a higher level of club," Staus said. "I've never coached based on age level. Some kids have that court sense that's just unteachable. You're born with it or you're not. Not a lot of kids have that. (Swistek) usually already knows what I want to say. She's really good about listening to what I say. She's old enough that she can control what's going on on the court. I need someone who can understand the game enough that they can explain it."

That's a big reason why Swistek's at ease in continuing to step into a bigger leadership role on a team.

"I like it," she said. "From freshman year, I wasn't nervous to (talk). All the seniors already knew me through Dunes. They were like, if you have something to say, say it. They know I have the experience, I've played a long time, I know what I'm talking about."

Staus likes the personality contrast that Swistek and senior Katie Hancock provide in that role.

"I don't think her personality is the vocal kid as much as leading by her play," Staus said. "I see her and Katie bouncing off each other more, one's the hype man, one's, OK, let's chill out. It's a good balance."

The heat of the moment is where Swistek thrives and derives her competitive rush.

"I like to hit the ball. I have a lot of power on the ball," she said. "You're in control. I like the adrenaline. I like it when people don't like me. The other team's cheering, I spike the ball, I hit it harder, and they get mad. That's fun to me."

Swistek connected on 459 kills in 38 matches last year with a hitting percentage of 31.2. A tad taller (she's listed at 5-foot-10), she also tacked on a couple inches to her vertical leap playing beach volleyball.

"She plays taller," Staus said.

Even so, Staus won't rely on her junior star to the point where opposing teams lock in on her.

"I've made it a point for our setters that they can't keep setting outside," she said. "Ninety percent of high school girls volleyball, they set outside. I like to tell our setters to spread it around, get everybody involved. We have to make sure blockers second guess it, then they get tired. I'm not a big fan of one kid running the show. I don't think those teams are successful. Everybody has to do their job or it doesn't work."

While Swistek is at a point where her recruiting is typically just taking off, she's already taken a step toward her college career with a verbal commitment to Valparaiso University last month.

"I've always wanted to go there because I've known the coaches for a while," she said. "They've been watching me since I was 12. I liked the campus. It's close to home. I didn't want to go far."

That doesn't apply to the post-season though.

"I'm very excited. I feel we really can go far this year," Swistek said. "We're already working pretty hard. We look better than we have in past years. The skills we have are improved. We do a drill where (Staus) keeps hitting at us until we get 25 and it normally goes fast because our defense is pretty good. We have a few freshmen who are pretty good. We can definitely go as far as we did and I think we can go even further, and win state hopefully."

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