Harlandale teammates hope to discover second home in Sunflower State
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Sometimes in life, things work out almost as we’d script them, as if by divine intervention.
That’s essentially the tale of how Harlandale volleyball standouts Katie Neira and Sierra Sandoval will end up playing at separate small Christian colleges in Kansas. Adding to the coincidence, they happen to be best friends.
Which is where the coincidence is diminished a tad.
Neira already had chosen Bethel College in North Newton, Kan. when Sandoval let her know that she was considering Central Christian College of Kansas in McPherson. The girls soon discovered the schools, located just northwest of Wichita, were close enough to facilitate relatively frequent visits.
“Sierra told me about this college in Kansas that was showing interest in her,” Neira said. “I said, ‘You have to go there.’ It’s only about a 30-minute drive away. My school actually plays against her school. It’s going to be like middle school.”
Neira attended Harlandale Middle School, while Sandoval went to Leal Middle School.
At one point, they both had considered Abilene Christian University, but had planned to make their college decisions separately. Nonetheless, they’ll be separated by just 28.3 miles.
Neira’s roommate will be her San Antonio Warriors club teammate, Amber Munoz, from District 29-4A rival Southside. Sandoval didn’t know anyone who was attending Central Christian, although she said she’s building a friendship with her prospective roommate.
She knows that Neira also will provide a support system to stave off homesickness.
“Katie’s my best friend,” said Sandoval, who played for a club in La Vernia in the offseason. “It’s going to be nice to have someone there that I’m already friends with.”
As an Indians senior, Neira recorded a team-best 365 kills (3.6 per match) and 36 service aces, second only to Sandoval’s 37. She was a three-year starter at Harlandale, who moved from middle blocker to outside hitter last season.
“Katie is very explosive and plays with a lot of emotion,” Harlandale coach Sylvia Cardenas said. “She was the one that would get the team going. She was our power hitter.”
The libero also had a team-high 503 digs (4.6 per match), 339 more than any other Harlandale player. Sandoval
“Sierra was very, very key to our defense and serve-receive,” Cardenas said. “I had to design our serve-receive so she wa always in the middle of the court. She’s a great passer. We wouldn’t have been able to run our offense without her. She put the ball right in the setter’s hands.”
Their coach believes the friends were rewarded for their due diligence on the court.
“For Katie and Sierra, in their hearts,” Cardenas said, “they are true volleyball players. When our season ended, they picked up with their clubs. They’re 100 percent volleyball. From the get-go, they wanted to play in college.
“That’s why I think they’ll do well.”
Both were latecomers to the sport by today’s standards, but Sandoval was deeply rooted in Harlandale volleyball.
Her grandmother, a 1976 graduate, played for two Harlandale state-qualifying teams. Her mother, Natalie Reyes, was an Indians volleyball player until her graduation in 1992. Her aunts, Jackie (Class of 2004) and Stacy (Class of 2002), followed suit. So, Sandoval would attend Harlandale matches before she was old enough to understand the sport.
However, she was torn between softball and volleyball when she was growing up.
“My first love actually was softball,” Sandoval said, “but once I started doing volleyball, I fell in love with it.”
The family legacy now passes to her sisters. After a strong first season with the Indians, Kianna Sandoval will be be a sophomore and is in line for the setter job. Pamela Sandoval will join the Indians this fall as a freshman.
Aside from her father, a three-sport athlete at Lanier, Neira didn’t come from a sports background. Which is why her mother was surprised when she expressed an interest in sixth grade.
“When I started, I couldn’t hit the ball over the net,” Neira said. “I like to challenge myself, that’s why I stuck to it.”
Neira will be entering a volleyball program that is being heavily restocked with freshman, but she expects Bethel to have success this year.
“It’s just like a piece of home for me,” Neira said.
Sandoval had considered Olivet Nazarene College (Ill.),but she liked what she saw in an upstart Central Christian program with a second-year coach.
“They’re really like a family,” Sandoval said. “I’m excited to be there to start it off and be a part of the growth.”
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