As a result, it should come as no surprise that O’Connor drew the attention of college coaches and officially signed to play volleyball at Western Carolina University Tuesday.
“She had a really good career at Cartersville. She was a four-year varsity starter. She was our main go-to hitter and she scored a lot of our points,” Cartersville volleyball coach Camille Spradley said. “She brought something to the team, a different level of competition that we’re really going to miss.”
Opponents made sure to keep their heads up when Cartersville was on offense because of O’Connor’s ability to spike the ball.
She led the county in kills her senior season with 241 after posting 344 her junior year.
“She definitely didn’t mind aiming for people and making them play their position,” Spradley said of O’Connor as a hitter. “It was never anything intentional. It was always, ‘I want to make them do their job.’ It wasn’t so much, ‘I want to put the ball somewhere where they’re not.’ It was, ‘I want to hit the ball very hard and make them do their jobs, play defense and defend it.’
“She loved it. It was like having target practice out there on the court. It just made it fun.”
Undoubtedly, local opponents will not miss O’Connor’s devastating hitting ability. “It was during the Bartow County Championships and she took the other team’s setter out,” Spradley recalled of her favorite moment in O’Connor’s career. “She went up, and she was playing middle for us, and it was the semifinal match two years ago against Adairsville and she just went up and took out their No. 1 setter. She slammed the girl and she was crying, the other player is, and Katie went over to me and she was like, ‘Do you want me to do it again?’ And I was like, ‘Yes.’ And two plays later, she did it again and they ended up having to take her out of the match. It really got them off their offensive system.”
During her junior season, O’Connor ranked 15th in the state for hitting percentage and eighth in Class AAA; 17th in the state in kill percentage (44.8) and fourth in Class AAA; 17th in the state and third in Class AAA for aces (97); third in the state for blocks (159) and 23rd in the state in Class AAA for digs (138).
For her efforts, she was named to the 2012 Class AAA All-State Volleyball Team.
This past year, O’Connor led the county in blocks with 44. She had a .312 hitting percentage and 42.7 kill percentage to go along with 58 aces from the service line and a 76.3 serve percentage. She also was named The Daily Tribune News All-County Player of the Year in 2013.
During O’Connor’s career, she helped lead the Lady Canes to four state playoff appearances, including an elite eight.
“I think I did well and learned a lot more through the years,” O’Connor said. “It’s going to carry me through college.”
Located in Cullowhee, N.C., Western Carolina is an NCAA Division I athletics program in the Southern Conference.
“I went on the visit and I just fell in love with the campus. It’s in a nice location. I met the team and the coaches and they’re all just really nice. I felt like I belonged there,” O’Connor said. “It was just the feeling that I got when I went. I just knew that I wanted to go there.”
O’Connor also was considering Charleston Southern, Wofford and Stetson.
“I am incredibly proud of Katie,” Spradley said. “I told her she could probably go anywhere she wanted to. She needed to concentrate on finding a place that was going to be a good fit for her and the kind of education she was going to receive. I really think she is going to prosper [at Western Carolina].”
O’Connor played middle and some outside hitter for Cartersville, but will play middle for the Catamounts.
“It’ll be nice just to stay in my comfort zone. I’m happy with it,” she said of playing middle hitter. “If I want playing time, I’m going to have to work hard for it and that’s what I like. I want to challenge myself and get better so I can get playing time as a freshman.”
Cartersville now has to replace its stalwart on the court for the past four years and its biggest offensive weapon.
“They want to be like Katie,” Spradley said of her returning players. “They want to play hard like Katie. She showed them that if you put in the hard work, it’s going to pay off and it’s worth it. All the sweat that goes into it is worth it if you know what you want and you’re willing to put the work in to achieve it.”