By Jack Williams
Mention the word competition and Georgia Tech volleyball star Kele Eveland laces up her gym shoes – real tight. The freshman from Grand Rapids, Mich., is such a fierce competitor that she finds adventure in every sports activity – even weight-lifting, for heaven’s sake.
“Yes, that’s right” she said. “I’m very competitive and look at weightlifting in that way, as a challenge, not a burden. It’s fun to lift and see just how much I can do. I even like to get sore lifting because that shows I’ve had a good workout.”
But, let me hasten to say, it’s not weightlifting that is attracting the attractive Kele Eveland’s attention these days. It is Tech’s quest for the Atlantic Coast Conference volleyball championship – a quest that comes down to the wire in crucial contests this weekend.
Coach Shelton Collier’s Yellow Jackets currently are 22-5 overall and 12-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Tech is in a near dead heat with the North Carolina Tar Heels for first place in the ACC as the regular season nears an end. Carolina is 23-6 and 13-2.
Tech meets Florida State Friday night in a tough match and then takes on the Tar Heels Saturday night in the match that could decide the regular season title. Both weekend contests are scheduled for O’Keefe Gymnasium starting at 7 p.m.
Then next week comes the ACC Championship Tournament at Wake Forest Nov. 16-18.
If Tech survives and comes out on top, much of the credit will go to Eveland, a setter who five times has been ACC Rookie of the Week and is the favorite for the seasonal award as Top Rookie-which would be a first for Georgia Tech.
Coach Collier, for one, is ready to stuff the ballot box for her.
“Even as a freshman, Kele is truly one of the most remarkable players I have ever coached,” he said. “She has so much charisma, determination and intensity and is amazingly comfortable as our team leader even in her first season here. She expects and demands so much from herself. She is such a mature competitor at such a young age.”
Eveland currently has been the setter on 1,131 assists which led to winning rallies. She is second on the Tech team in digs with 234.
It is no coincidence that everywhere Eveland shows up, championships suddenly seem to be the order of the day. She sparked her high school team at East Kentwood in Grand Rapids to the State volleyball championship her senior season. She also starred for a club team with the unusual name of Dead Frogs that twice finished fifth in the national tournament. She was an All-America selection in club competition under Coach Colleen Farrell, whom Kele says, “taught me everything I know about the game.”
Kele (pronounced Keely) almost helped pull off another championship trick in basketball, averaging 13 points and seven rebounds as a forward and twice leading her high school team to the state semifinals.
The recruiters lined up at her door. Many of them were basketball recruiters. But her high school basketball coach, Robert Roelofs, discouraged the basketball recruiters from the start.
“Have you seen this girl play volleyball?” he asked the basketball people. “She’s even better than she is in basketball. Maybe you better forget about her.”
Collier had better luck as a volleyball recruiter. “I recruited her as our top choice to come in and run our team,” the coach said.
Eveland had made up her mind what she was looking for-a school with good academics, good athletics and a good tradition. She said she found all of that at Georgia Tech.
“This is my home – already,” Eveland said this week. “It’s so special to me. It matters, too, that Atlanta gives me lots of options for things to do. I like big cities. And I like the weather here. It’s so much warmer than Michigan where it’s cold already in the month of September.”
Eveland also admits she has “fallen in love” with her teammates. “Usually on a team, there are one or two who do not get along well with everyone,” she said. “But on this team, everyone gets along. I totally love my teammates and would do anything for any one of them.”
She said it is also special that five of those teammates hail from Europe. “The Europeans add flavor and spice to our team,” she said. “My roommate is another freshman, Geeske Banck from Germany. And I have learned so much from her. She has really opened my eyes. We look at German magazines which are so different from the American magazines. She goes on to explain how different things are in different parts of the world.
“She has even helped me with studies in English. My version of English, like that of many Americans, has a lot of slang words. She uses proper English just like it was taught in her schools. So I have a German girl helping me with English. Geeske is so special. She is my sister.”
This very special team has special designs on the ACC Championship. “The ACC is a tough league,” Eveland said. “Every single game is competition at its best. You can’t overlook any team. At Virginia, we were ready to play and went up 2-0. But we lost our focus and dropped three games in a row. We simply could not get back our focus in time.”
Eveland says the ACC Rookie award is not on her mind. “That doesn’t matter,” she said. “I just want to work hard to help our team to win the conference championship. Besides, the award wouldn’t be possible for me without the great play by the hitters around me. They make me a better player.”
Eveland came by her athletic skills quite naturally. Her mother (Jay) was a star volleyball player at Central Michigan and her father (Jack) competed in rugby on the club level at the same university. Kele’s older sister (Mya) played volleyball at George Washington University and her 14-year-old sister (Ky) is currently trying out for her high school team in her freshman year.
Even Kele’s boyfriend, Michael Hodge, is an athlete of note. He plays on the tennis team at Michigan State-when he’s not busy talking with Kele on long distance telephone calls.
Eveland might someday like to compete for a spot on the United States National team and perhaps a shot at the Olympic Games. “But that is down the road – a long time off,” she said. “Right now, I just want to improve my skills and help my team.”
A management major, Eveland says she might like to eventually be a teacher. “I think that if I could help even a couple of people by leading them in the right direction, then it would be worth it,” she said. “It will be interesting to see where life takes me.”
Wherever she winds up, you can bet she will have those gym shoes laced up-real tight-and turn out to be the fiercest competitor in town.