The Gazette's Volleyball 5A/4A Peak Performer of the Year: Haleigh Washington, Doherty

By Kevin Carmody Published: December 21, 2013 | 7:50 pm 0

Haleigh Washington faced an entirely different challenge during the 2013 volleyball season.

Gone were the days of enjoying her spot as an occasional option on a Doherty team blessed with multiple weapons. As a senior, the 6-foot-4 middle blocker not only took on the role of leader, but essentially carried the hopes of an entire squad on her broad shoulders.

She never flinched.

"Honestly, I think she was better as a senior, just because of the fact that she accepted different responsibilities, and was going to have to step up in different roles," said Spartans coach Tara Hittle, who watched Washington help her team return to the 5A state tournament. "She really set an example for the younger players."

Washington, one of only two returning letter-winners from Doherty's undefeated squad of 2012, headed into her senior season knowing her teammates would depend on her to provide most of the firepower.

"We heavily relied on her for pretty much more than 90 percent of our offense," Hittle said. "We expected her to get the kill all the time."

In the end, she did that, tallying more kills, 589, than any other volleyball player in Colorado during the season.

As the unquestioned floor general, Washington willed the Spartans back to the state tournament, but they failed to advance past pool play and finished 21-6 after two matches in the Denver Coliseum.

"This year, everyone knew I was going to get the ball," Washington said. "It was different than last year. I had to find new shots. I had to play smarter."

Later, she earned the rare honor of earning the title of Colorado Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year for a second straight season.

Still, that's not the achievement for which she wants to be remembered.

"If I don't end high school with a 4.0 GPA, I'm going to cry," said Washington, who took many of her final exams early so she could travel to Seattle to compete in the Under Armour First-Team All-America game Friday at Key Arena, in conjunction with the NCAA Championships. "I'm a student-athlete, not an athlete-student. When the season ended, I was bummed and sad, but volleyball wasn't over for me permanently."

Washington, whose family moved from Idaho Springs to Colorado Springs before the 2012 season, will move on to Penn State, which played for the national championship on Dec. 21.

She wavers on possible careers, from one of a chiropractor to another as a sports broadcaster while not ruling out the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

But before she looks too far ahead, she pauses to reflect on the past two years of her life in a place far from her rural upbringing.

"Choosing Doherty High School was the blessing of my life," Washington said. "A lot of people talk about how they hated high school. I'm so happy, so glad we moved. I'm just so proud that I'll be able to say I'm an alumnus of Doherty before starting a new chapter of my life in college."

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