There is nothing normal about Colene Hamilton.
That includes her immense volleyball talent, unusually high vertical jump and the ability to not only hit, but also control volleyball shots from just about any spot or angle on the court.
“I’m really kind of boring,” insisted Hamilton, a senior outside hitter from the Columbia Eagles voted Belleville News-Democrat Large-School (Class 3A-4A) Volleyball Player of the Year by area coaches. “All I do is play volleyball.”
The 5-foot-9 Hamilton doesn’t just play volleyball; she can hang with the top players in the St. Louis region and earned a Division I sand volleyball scholarship to Central Arkansas.
Again, Hamilton isn’t one to follow a traditional path. Why play volleyball only indoors?
Why just hit a laser kill into an open spot when you could do a half-turn and place it within inches of the out of bounds stripe down the line?
“I know a lot of the sand player in me comes out on the court sometimes,” Hamilton said.
“When you look at Colene and how she plays, her body and her build and her height, sand volleyball is definitely what fits her the best,” said former Columbia coach Kelly Landgraf, who resigned after the season. “She’s just super explosive. She can jump, but she’s so quick off the ground and quick with her swing that being in the sand does not slow her down.
“Even defensively she’s explosive getting to her defensive spots—and anyone that’s played in the sand knows how hard it is to move.”
The difficult nature of sand volleyball is what made it so appealing to Hamilton.
“The fact that it is so different, I liked that because I’ve been playing indoors since third grade,” she said. “To me it’s a completely different sport. It’s more about hitting a shot and control than indoor. With indoor you just want to pound the ball. With outdoor its more about location and control.
“It’s completely different to me, and that’s why I like it. I love being outside, and I can just play the sport I love.”
Hamilton and Mater Dei senior libero Erica Hitpas were both chosen to play in the first SportstownChicago.com Illinois High School Volleyball All-Star Game on Dec. 4 at 3 p.m. at College of Du Page.
The Eagles were 128-20 the past four years with Hamilton in the lineup, winning four regional titles and one sectional title. In the past three seasons, they never won fewer than 33 matches or lost more than five.
Only two players in Columbia volleyball history—former St. Louis University standout Sammi McCloud and former Dayton standout Anna Eytchison—finished their high school career with more kills than the 1,066 Hamilton put down in four years.
“She’s right there with them,” Landgraf said of Hamilton, who also had 1,338 career digs. “Colene is an offensive threat, plus a serve-receive and digs threat.”
Her totals this season included 348 kills, 47 blocks and 309 digs for a Columbia team that won its first 36 matches before losing to eventual Class 3A third-place finisher Mascoutah in the sectional semifinals.
That loss was devastating for Hamilton and the entire Columbia squad. They felt they had a shot at a state title but never got out of the sectional.
Hamilton said she stopped paying attention to volleyball but still hoped Mascoutah did well at state.
“I shut it down,” she said. “Looking back on it now, 36-1 is really good. It just stinks that Mascoutah came out on fire, and we just came out and weren’t. Everything just kind of felt off, it wasn’t our game.
“I wish this year would have ended differently, but it didn’t. I’m still happy with how we played this year and all the past years.”
Hamilton was a baby-sitter for Landgraf previously, and Landgraf said Hamilton’s playful nature made her a particular favorite of her young son.
“Little kids love her because she’s so quirky and really funny,” Landgraf said. “She keeps things light, which is good. She’s got a great personality.”
Twenty years from now, it might be easier for Hamilton and the Eagles’ nine other seniors to remember the entire season and 36 wins instead of dwelling on the one painful defeat.
“A lot of us have been playing since the third grade,” Hamilton said. “A lot of the friendships might stay together through college and after college, too. We’re all pretty close, which is really nice. I would probably consider all those girls my best friends.”
Coach of the Year
For the second straight year, Mascoutah coach Todd Gober was voted the BND Large-School Volleyball Coach of the Year by his fellow coaches.
Maybe it was the back-to-back state tournament trips or the back-to-back third-place finishes. Maybe it was the way his teams found a way to get hot in the playoffs and ride that momentum all the way to Redbird Arena in Normal, the site of the state tourney.
The Indians are a combined 65-17 the past two seasons, including 31-9 in 2016.