WILTON, Iowa — Raised in a household with two older siblings, both of whom had standout high school careers and continued to compete in college, Kelsey Drake has been immersed in athletics.
It was football and volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter, track & field in the spring and baseball and softball in the summer. And several of those sports often bled into other seasons.
Whether it was trying to hold her own on the basketball court with brother, Javin, or peppering a volleyball in the yard with sister, Kortney, Drake’s childhood revolved around sports.
“I definitely became very competitive at a young age because of them,” the Wilton High School senior said. “We turned everything into a competition. It could be running from the restaurant to see who touches the car first.”
They also were shining examples for Drake to follow.
Javin, a three-sport star in high school, pitched for Western Illinois University and Indiana State. Kortney was an all-region performer for the Kirkwood Community College women's basketball program last winter.
And like her siblings, this week’s Iowa Pacesetter has left an indelible mark on Wilton's athletic programs.
Already a 1,000-plus point scorer in basketball — like Javin and Kortney — and a state track & field qualifier, Drake surpassed 1,000 career kills on the volleyball court last weekend at Wilton’s home tournament. She is on pace to reach 1,000 digs for her career later this month.
“When you have older siblings who play, you go to their games and learn a lot from watching and being around it,” said Wilton volleyball coach Brenda Grunder. “You talk sports and then practice those things at home. When you’re younger, you get pushed around, bumped and nudged a bit. That just makes you tougher.”
On most nights she suits up, Drake is one of the most talented volleyball players on the court. A four-year starter, she averages 3.9 kills and 2.5 digs per set and is hitting a robust .475 along with a 95% serving efficiency.
But more than Drake’s powerful swing, high level of athleticism and exceptional ball control skills, Grunder said her biggest area of growth is not technical.
“It is more of Kelsey finding her voice on the court, being more of a leader,” Grunder said. “She is now giving direction and making comments to what we need to do on the court.
“When you’re quiet and polite like Kelsey that is a little bit out of her comfort zone.”
More than the individual accolades, Drake is at the center of the most successful volleyball run in program history. The Beavers have been to three consecutive state tournaments and are 120-13 during Drake’s career.
Wilton is 16-0 and ranked third in Iowa Class 2A heading into Thursday night’s River Valley Conference match against Monticello.
“It has been amazing,” said Drake, a returning first team all-stater. “Everyone knows we’re going to be a tough team and we do a great job of embracing that. We’re confident but not cocky.”
That meshes with Drake’s personality.
Grunder describes her senior outside hitter as kind, thoughtful and humble.
“I will compliment her and she’ll say, ‘Thanks coach,’” Grunder said. “She’s appreciative of anything you say, a critique or a compliment. She’s all in, always listening and engaged.”
The 5-foot-10 Drake has been Wilton’s primary attacker since her sophomore season. In Wilton’s five postseason matches that culminated with a state semifinal appearance last year, Drake had only eight hitting errors in 147 attacks.
“I’ve gotten a lot better at mixing up shots and have gotten a lot stronger,” she said.
With her mother Melanie involved in coaching Wilton’s club program and Kortney’s influence, Drake fell in love with volleyball at a young age.
It wasn’t until late in junior high that volleyball separated itself from the other sports. She joined the Iowa Rockets club program as a freshman.
“That’s when I started to get taller,” Drake said. “Hitting came a lot easier."
“From the time she was a freshman, she has just wanted to swing hard,” Grunder said.
A six-rotation player, Drake impacts the game in a variety of ways — offense, defense and at the service line. When Wilton ran a 6-2 offense two years ago, Drake shared setting duties with Ella Caffery.
Now that Wilton is back running a 5-1 with Caffery as the facilitator, Drake is the team's go-to option.
“My freshman year if the ball wasn’t a perfect set, I would go to tipping or pushing it to play it safe,” Drake said. “I’ve really learned mistakes are part of the game, so you might as well do it being aggressive.”
Drake is just the third player in program history to reach 1,000 kills, joining school record holder Aubrey Putman (more than 1,500) and Peggy Riessen.
“It is exciting to reach that milestone, something always in my head at the beginning of the season,” Drake said. “Now, I want to work toward the next goal and that’s to beat the school record.”
Goals are a significant part of what motivates Drake, she said.
Wilton has never made it past the semifinal round in each of its past three state tournament trips.
“We haven’t come back wearing the pink (championship) T-shirts,” Drake said, “so that’s always in my head. I’m hoping this year can be our year.”
Class 2A is stacked. Defending champion Dike-New Hartford is unbeaten and ranked as the overall No. 1 team in the state by Varsity Bound. Denver and Western Christian, state semifinalists last year, are very good again and reigning 3A champion Osage has dropped down a classification this fall.
“A lot of good teams,” Drake said. “To say we can come out on top that would be pretty cool.”
Drake has more volleyball after this season. She recently committed to Division III Wisconsin-Platteville and plans to study early childhood education. The long-term objective is to teach preschool or kindergarten and coach volleyball.
And like the example Javin and Kortney provided for her, Drake is doing the same for sister Kinsey, a freshman and the youngest of Reggie and Melanie Drake's four children. Kinsey was recently promoted to the Beavers’ varsity roster.
“We’ll pepper outside a lot and she already has that competitive mindset,” Drake said. “Being the youngest, she has watched her siblings and wants to do the same thing.
"It will be a lot of fun to watch her grow."