CHATHAM, NJ - Caroline Beardsley can hear the snickers and laughs by her opponents when she warms up to play for the Chatham High girls volleyball team.
"At the beginning of games, I do this thing where I practice my block," Beardsley said. "People start laughing at me, saying, 'She's so short, why is she in the front row? Look, she's trying to get higher than the net.' That makes me want to get a kill on them in the game."
Once the game starts, no one laughs at the senior outside hitter. After finishing 6-16 last season, Chatham (9-7) is in the midst of a revival, led by Beardsley and her play at the net. She paces the Cougars with 90 kills and 32 service aces, and ranks second on the team with 100 digs.
Beardsley is the TAP Chatham Athlete of the Week.
"If you watch her play, you can see she is very passionate about the game," Chatham coach Anna Amster said. "Although she's not one of the team captains, she leads by example and a lot of the girls feed off her energy on the court. She pushes her teammates to play better. You can tell the game means a lot to her."
When Beardsley came to Chatham High from Newark Academy as a sophomore, she had to choose between soccer and volleyball. She didn't know which sport to pick, so she took a couple days to try out for both teams.
"Both sports were really fun to play, but I thought I had a better chance of getting playing time in volleyball," Beardsley said. "I love volleyball so much more now that I've focused on it fulltime."
Beardsley is not the typical outside hitter because she is shorter than most who play the position. But she's managed to make her mark, nonetheless.
"I claim I'm 5-7, but I'm only 5-6," she said. "Outside hitters are usually much taller. I love to hit and I can jump pretty high for my height. I have to say I like to feel proud of my hit. I love getting the kill and that's why I tried out for the position. I didn't want to play back row."
Beardsley's jump serve is effective because of her placement, and the same can be said of her kills, which she slams into spaces that are uncovered on the court.
"Each point is like a separate game," Beardsley said. "Each single thing you do is all-important to the result. In soccer, if you lose the ball, you have a chance to run back and make up for your mistake. In volleyball, if you mess up it's a point for the other team, It's mostly a mental game because you can't get down. We're much more mature as a team this year and we don't get down on ourselves."