As the Marshall Tigers lined up to start the Section 3AA North sub-section championship on Nov. 1 against Montevideo, Marshall junior Kenzie Beekman was not at her customary left-outside hitter position. She was on the bench.
After sustaining an ankle injury against Benson two days earlier, Beekman was forced to watch her first Marshall volleyball game in three seasons. The Tigers cruised to a 3-0 victory in her absence, but the role of spectator did not suit Beekman well.
"It really showed how important volleyball is to me," Beekman said. "I did everything I possibly could to get back out."
Photo illustration by Aaron Schlemmer
Marshall head volleyball coach Dan Westby said the time off had a discernible impact Beekman.
"I think having to sit out that match in the sub-section championship against Montevideo, that was probably the most difficult thing she did all year," Westby said. "And she came back very determined to play in the final; and not only did she play, but she played very well. That says a lot about her as a competitor."
A recharged Beekman helped lead the Tigers to four more wins on the season in claiming their fifth overall and second consecutive state championship. Beekman knocked down 81 kills over Marshall's final four games. She also had 47 digs during that span.
Those last four games, with Beekman playing some of her best volleyball of the year, were a microcosm of her 2012 season as a whole.
Throughout the fall, Beekman was atop the area leaderboard in kills, but also near the top in digs as she emerged as one of Marshall's top passers when she rotated to the back row. Her 290 digs ranked second for the Tigers, behind libero Hannah Bennett's 512, and ninth in the area.
"She's improved as a defender and as a passer, as well, in serve-receive," Westby said. "And our team certainly needs that. You can't have enough kids that can pass the ball, and she's really improved in that area as well. There were a number of times this year where we passed with just two players on the court, and that was her and Hannah Bennett. We wouldn't be able to do that if Kenzie doesn't hold up her end."
This development of an elite all-around game has earned Beekman a two-time All-State selection (Class AA 2011 and 2012), two-time All-Soutwest Conference selection (2011, 2012) , two-time All-Tournament selection (Class AA 2011, 2012) and All-American (2011 by prepvolleyball.com). She now has another accolade: the 2012 Independent Player of the Year.
"She's got a lot of things going for her; the fact that she's extremely explosive and very athletic, that's a pretty good combination when you're putting together a volleyball player," Westby said. "So just from the start, she's got a lot of things working in her favor.
"The other thing that I think has made her so effective as a hitter and one of the things that she's really improved at is the fact that she's developed a number of shots. She's able to hit the ball down the line or cross court, she's developed a pretty good tip and a pretty good roll. As an attacker, she's really done a nice job of increasing the number of shots that she's been able to show the other team."
At 5-foot-11 and facing the opposition's best blocks night after night, Beekman would need that full arsenal of swings to accumulate 512 kills in 2012.
Moreover, the graduation of Marshall's second and third attacking options from the 2011 state championship squad placed extra pressure on Beekman to perform at an elevated level. She, however, made light of the extra attention and led the area averaging 5.5 kills per set and finished the year with a .359 hitting percentage.
"I think there's a number of times that we probably played teams that loaded up and she's always facing two blockers," Westby said. "In spite of that, she always found a way to score. And that's not always easy to do. When you know that the other team is going to put up their best block against you, she's still been able to find a way to put up points for us."
Along with the scoring deficit, the graduation of Jessica Baker and Morgan McKittrick left a leadership void for the Tigers, a void which Beekman insists was filled by the entire team.
"Jessica and Morgan played a huge role and were great leaders, but I think that we all felt that we had to step up and be leaders," Beekman said.
McKittrick, the 2011 Player of the Year, was one of the Tigers' better passers a season ago, another aspect that the humble Beekman says she has tried to improve upon as the mantle of leadership grows.
"I've been trying to work at and get better at back row because I need to get better at that, I need to get better at everything."
Beekman also added 43 ace blocks and 32 serving aces on 269 of 299 serving during a milestone year in which she found the floor for her 1,000th career kill. She now has 1,373 for her career, while she is just 257 digs away from 1,000 for her career, as well. The Tigers as a team spent the season ranked No. 1 in the Class AA polls, despite a vicious schedule. The 29-5 overall record of the Tigers included wins over Minnesota Class A Champion Bethlehem Academy, and two wins over South Dakota Class AA Champion Sioux Falls Roosevelt, while two of their losses came against Minnesota Class AAA champion Lakeville North. Beekman rose to the occasion against the highest competition. She had 59 total kills over 10 combined sets against Bethlehem Academy and Roosevelt, while totalling 20 kills and 16 digs in four sets against Lakeville North.
Beekman's sister Amanda, now a Marshall assistant coach, was named the Independent Player of the Year as a junior in 2005.