Katie Spell never even planned on playing high school volleyball as a child. So the idea of leading the Trojans to back-to-back Area 7-AAA titles in her final two seasons of high school was the last thing on her mind.
Her blueprint for high school included life as a cheerleader and gymnast.
But fate and an unexpected physical ailment, discovered at age 10, threw a curveball to her high school plans and changed her life forever. Immediately, she had to kiss those dreams of cheering on the football team and doing back flips on the mat goodbye.
But, for Spell, it was a blessing in disguise. After taking up volleyball in the eighth grade, Spell found her true athletic passion.
She attributes her success on the court to the support of her mother, Pam Spell, who was always there as her "biggest fan." Spell says her mother never missed a game and was always the biggest supporter on the sideline.
Spell finished her senior season at North Hall as a star at middle hitter with 221 kills, 37 blocks, 36 service aces and an 86 percent serve success rate. For her efforts, Spell has been named The Times 2007 Volleyball Player of the Year.
"Katie plays with such a high level of intensity," North Hall coach Debbie Wiley said. "She always worked very hard and did whatever she could to help the team win."
Not bad for a kid who, just before starting middle school, didn’t know if she would ever be able to play sports.
It was a day Spell will never forget. She was diagnosed with scoliosis, a condition brought on by improper spinal development, and forced to endure a "high-risk" spinal fusion with two titanium rods inserted in her back soon after beginning her sixth grade year. The surgery was necessary to fix a 48-degree curve in the top of her back and a separate 38-degree curve in the base of her back.
It was scary for Spell to have to spend a week in the hospital, followed by a month away from school doing home-bound learning. After all, she was still trying to get acclimated to life in middle school.
Now, she had to learn how to do simple things again, like how to sit up straight and walk properly.
"It was really hard to go through at the time," Spell said. "I was just trying to get used to being in middle school, and then had to miss that much school."
She’ll never forget when the scoliosis was discovered by her father during a Fourth of July party. Sitting on her father’s lap, he asked Katie to sit up straight.
"And I told my dad, I am sitting up straight," Spell said.
A family friend — a physical education teacher — had an idea what the problem may be and told the family to take Katie to the doctor. That’s when the scoliosis was properly diagnosed.
"I had been complaining about some back problems before that," Spell said. "But I thought it was just that I needed a new bed."
After the surgery and physical therapy were completed, she wasn’t allowed to take part in any physical sports for a year.
Then in the eighth grade she stumbled into volleyball with classmates Caroline Coker and Sara Anne McCoun. At first, it was just a sport she would be able to participate in with her friends, but it quickly became a passion.
That same season she started playing Junior Olympic volleyball with the Georgia Juniors who eventually relocated their team to Athens Academy. She would continue to play there through her junior season of high school.
By the end of her high school career she would become a fiery leader on the floor for the Lady Trojans. Spell led not only with her words on the floor, but also with a powerful stroke, kill shot and a competitive nature that is hard to match, says her coach.
"She could also block the ball very hard at the net," Wiley said.
And Spell’s intensity on the court brought out a competitive side so fierce that she accidentally knocked a player from Gilmer down with a laser-beam spike this season.
Not once, but twice.
"I never hit anybody else on purpose, but I was told that it’s okay to hit someone with a spike," Spell said. "I was trained to hit the ball so hard that you could break the wood on the floor."
The first time it happened she went up for a spike, and by the time she turned around she was the last to notice that everyone was attending to the Bobcats’ player on the floor. For the record, the injured player was fine.
The second time, the Gilmer player was a little less forgiving.
"It was just more ironic that it happened the second time," Spell said.
But there is a lot more than individual accomplishments that Spell will remember from playing volleyball at North Hall. Spell said she’ll cherish the area title as a junior when the Lady Trojans had to get past perennial power West Hall, and the level of parity this season with teams as talented as West Hall, Flowery Branch, Johnson and West Forsyth to get by.
Spell says everyone for North Hall fit a special role this season.
"That’s why we were such a well-rounded team," Spell added. "We might not have had the six-foot tall girls or the outstanding libero, but everyone knew what they had to do for us to be successful."