Seger won Mental Attitude Award at JasperMay 29, 2020
BY COREY STOLZENBACH
Kaisi (Nixon) Seger grew up being around the tradition that is Jasper volleyball. She saw it first hand when her mother, Becky, succeeded longtime coach Pat Zehr.
It seemed like an inevitability that Jasper would win a sectional championship on the court every year. The Wildcats had won 15 consecutive sectional crowns by the time she entered her freshman year in 2004, and the only time from 1979-2003 that they didn’t win one was in 1988.
“I grew up with my mom being the coach, and I went to all the volleyball practices every day after school and I got to know the players and be around them and go to all of the volleyball games,” Kaisi said. “I was kind of their water girl. It was really cool to grow up and just be around it my whole, entire life, basically.”
Having her mom as her coach was, as she put it, “different,” but she liked it. It was an adjustment having to treat Becky like her coach and not her mom. Kaisi and her mother had a good enough relationship, though, that they made it work.
Kaisi worked her way into a starting role her freshman year, and it didn’t have to do with her mom being the coach. In fact, Becky was initially resistant to putting her daughter on varsity. She completely dismissed it when Kaisi was an eighth grader, only for her to think that it could be a possibility, but not likely.
Then Kaisi proved to her mom that it just might happen when she was holding her own against the upperclassmen in summer 2004, and she finally forced her mother’s hand during her freshman season — becoming a varsity starter after beginning the season on the junior varsity squad.
“I put in a lot of time outside of just practice,” she said. “Whenever I was at home, I was always setting the ball or hitting the ball against our brick wall, or I was in the basement setting against the wall. We had an outdoor net in our backyard. So, I would just play with my mom in the backyard a lot. So, I think just working more outside of practice just gave me that much more experience to play at that level.”
None of the older players resented that she became a starter. They all embraced her, and she never remembers being nervous for any match. Volleyball came naturally to her, and she felt ready to step into that spot.
The sectional streak remained alive that year as the Wildcats seemingly had no trouble downing both Princeton and Washington for their 16th straight sectional championship; and Kaisi was officially part of that tradition.
“That was really awesome,” Kaisi said. “That’s kind of a lot of pressure to go that many years winning a sectional. You don’t want to be the team that messes that up. So, that was really cool to be a part of that and continue that tradition.”
She continued that tradition all four years she was in high school. Jasper failed to win a sectional championship in 2008, the year after Kaisi graduated. The Wildcats have since added seven more sectional titles since failing to win their 20th straight in 2008.
They’d seemingly always find their way come sectional time, regardless of what their regular-season record was. The team lost 15 games in the season during Kaisi’s sophomore year, but No. 17 in a row still made its way to Jasper in October 2005.
“I never remember there being trouble with any of my teams,” she said. “We weren’t all friends off of the court, but we all got along on the court. We just came together at that time and we all knew that we had the skill and ability, and we just had to trust in each other and know that we could pull it together.”
Winning a regional championship, however, would prove to be much more challenging. Silver Creek ended Jasper’s season when Kaisi was a freshman, and Class 3A No. 5 Boonville ended the Wildcats’ hopes when she was a sophomore. They may have 17 sectionals in a row up to that point, but hadn’t won a regional championship since 1998.
They say, though, that bad times don’t last, and evidently, neither do droughts. That regional drought ended Oct. 28, 2006, when the Wildcats took care of No. 10-ranked Providence, a team Kaisi said they were intimidated by before. They also got past Evansville Mater Dei to achieve their goal of making it to state — doing so on their home floor.
Jasper had a challenge, though, in fifth-ranked Mishawaka Marian, though the Wildcats won the first game. It became a greater challenge, though, when junior Maggie Boeckman left due to injury.
“It was definitely a blow to us whenever she sprained her ankle,” Kaisi said. “She was one of our starting middles, and she was a power hitter. She was probably one of our strongest hitters. So, anytime she would make a point, it would just give our team a boost because it was just a power kill. It didn’t just give us a point, but it gave us a mental edge, too.”
The Wildcats focused on playing together and with one another after she got hurt. One person did not make a team, but they believed they could still do it. However, Marian won the second, third and fourth sets to take the match.
Kaisi “100 percent” believed the Wildcats could return to state her senior year, and, sure enough, they did, after running past Evansville Memorial and Sullivan for a second straight regional championship. The scores in four of Jasper’s six sets indicated the Wildcats ran away with the title, drawing Marian in the semifinals for the second year in a row.
“I knew that we were going to be playing Marian again, and in my mind, I knew that we could win,” Kaisi said. “I went in with 100 percent confidence. I think maybe some of the players went in with confidence, but we also had new players that had never been to state before, and I just remember feeling kind of an uneasiness going into the game, even during warmups.
“You’re at state, some people are going to be nervous and I could tell that some people were nervous about it,” she continued. “I just remember kind of our team feeling a little bit off when we’re getting ready to play them.”
The Knights swept them, 3-0, in the semifinal match, including a 28-26 score in the final set. Jasper is still searching for its first berth in the state championship game since its lone appearance during the 1991 state runner-up season. The Wildcats have since won five consecutive regional championships from 2011-15.
Kaisi thought the Wildcats had the talent to win the state championship, but didn’t have the mentality that day.
“We were right there, we tried our hardest, but sometimes you don’t click as a team,” Kaisi said. “I think that if we would’ve been running on full cylinders, we would’ve had it in the bag.”
Kaisi may not have graduated high school a state champion, but she did leave as the recipient of the Mental Attitude Award that year. Both Becky and Kaisi’s aunt, Beth Winsett, also won the Mental Attitude Award when they played at Boonville in 1980 and 1984, respectively.
To win the award meant a whole lot to Kaisi.
“I would definitely credit my parents (Becky and David) for instilling in me the values that I have — focusing on the team rather than yourself, trying your best every single day, every single practice, every single game and caring for others more than yourself and caring about your team,” she said. “That really meant a lot that those values were able to be seen in my play.”
Kaisi also played basketball and ran track at Jasper, but her talents on the volleyball court took her to college, where she played NCAA Division I ball at the University of Evansville.
However, she had to be caught up to speed on one thing when she got there. Kaisi played for small club teams compared to her teammates, and it was an adjustment on the first day of practice when volleyball jargon she had never been heard before was being used. One such term was swing blocking.
“I look at my teammate, and I said, ‘What is swing blocking?’” Kaisi said. “They’re like, ‘You don’t know what swing blocking is,’ and I had never even heard of it. So, there were a lot of skills I had to learn and it is a much higher level of playing, a lot higher intensity and a whole lot faster than playing in high school. So, I had a lot of adjusting to do.”
Whatever adjustments she had to do, she made, playing all four years. She garnered playing time as a freshman in 2008 and as a sophomore in 2009 before starting every game as a junior in 2010 and leading the team in blocks that season.
It’s not so much the games she remembers as much as the camaraderie with her teammates and the relationships she made.
Kaisi has a family of her own now, and has managed to stay involved in the game in some sort. She was the head volleyball coach at South Spencer. It wasn’t something she was looking to do, but South Spencer athletic director Tim Martin reached out to her, and asked her to do it since she was living in the area. The Rebels won a sectional game every year she was there, including a trip to the sectional championship in her last year.
Her family moved back to Jasper to be closer to everybody else. She’s served as a volunteer assistant at her alma mater, and helped out with the high school volleyball camp last summer, which she intends to do again at the end of July. Kaisi said the camp that she’s scheduled to help coach is still on, in spite of COVID-19 forcing many cancellations.
“I think [Mom] told me to not become a coach,” Kaisi said with a laugh. “No, I saw the relationships that she made with the kids, and that is really what has driven me recently to get back into coaching. That’s what I enjoy most about coaching is having the relationships with the kids and seeing them become successful and learn new skills — not only volleyball skills, but I’ve seen all of my players grow as young ladies as well.”
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