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Stafford sets high standard

Senior does a little bit of everything in leading Hillgals to second straight PVL title
By: Todd Mordhorst, Journal Sports Editor
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Jennifer Wright has seen her share of devastating departures in her four years as Placer High volleyball coach. There was all-league middle blocker Sydney McDowell, who moved to southern California shortly before her senior season. All-league outside hitter Kelsey Johnson suffered a back injury prior to her junior year and eventually gave up volleyball for good. So when Colleen Stafford — a 5-foot-11 athlete with polished volleyball skills — showed up on the Earl Crabbe Gym doorstep prior to last season, Wright was understandably ecstatic. “I was pretty excited,” she said. “We go from losing people my first couple of years to gaining someone that would contribute in a big way.” Stafford’s impact was felt immediately. She earned all-Pioneer Valley League honors last season, helping Placer win the outright league title. She’s been even better this fall, leading the Hillgals to another Pioneer Valley League crown, which they clinched outright Tuesday night Colfax with Colfax’s loss to El Dorado. Stafford’s array of volleyball skills were developed under the tutelage of her father, Terry Stafford. He coached high school volleyball in the area for over 20 years and is currently the head coach at William Jessup University in Rocklin. “Ever since I was little I wanted to be like one of the big girls,” Stafford said. “I credit a lot of my skills to my dad. I grew up going to the gym with him and it’s kind of in my blood.” After attending Bowman Elementary in Auburn through eighth grade, Stafford began her high school career at Granite Bay, where her father coached. But the large-school setting didn’t suit Stafford and she transferred to Placer for her junior season. “It was something I really needed for personal reasons,” Stafford said. “I had a lot of friends at Placer and coming here is one of the best things that has happened in my life. I needed it socially, and for volleyball.” Stafford was a perfect fit with fellow senior Kelsey Lardner. Both are skilled setters and more than capable of hitting the ball, so Wright plugged them into Placer’s 6-2 offense and the team took off. Stafford averages over three kills per game and around three assists per game. She is also a presence at the net with her blocking ability and is one of the top servers on the team. “She brought a lot of experience, skill and a competitive attitude that added to what we had here,” Wright said of Stafford. “She fit in real well with the girls right away.” For most teenagers, changing high schools two years in is a nightmare, but Stafford said the transition couldn’t have been smoother. “It was really easy,” Stafford said. “Jen (Wright) made it really easy for me and the seniors that year really welcomed me. I didn’t feel like I was out of place coming here.” Stafford’s next transition to a new team will be at the college level. She’s received interest from several small colleges. She hasn’t ruled out the possibility of playing for her dad at William Jessup. Before she decides on her volleyball future, Stafford is looking to make the most of the present. Placer took its place atop the PVL standings with Colfax after knocking off the Falcons last week in Colfax. The Hillgals finished 11-1 in league play and are awaiting their playoff fate, which the section office will announce later this week. Placer will face a tough Sac-Joaquin Section Division III field that includes Del Oro and defending champion St. Mary’s of Stockton, which knocked Placer out in the semifinals last season. “It’s been our goal since the beginning to make it to the section final, win or lose,” Stafford said. We’ve already met our first goal (of a league title) and we’re so versatile that I think we have a really good chance.”