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RANGELY I When Rangely High School senior Leslie Hernandez signed on to play volleyball for Kansas Wesleyan University, she was doing what she’s always done: staying active and getting involved.
The 5-foot-4-inch athlete, who stepped into the position of libero for the Panthers two years ago and will be a defensive specialist for KWU, has played volleyball since fourth grade. It was just one of several activities Hernandez took on growing up.
“She was always interested in having things to do,” Leslie’s mother and Parkview Elementary School first-grade teacher Beverly Hernandez said. “She’s always been a high achiever.”
As Leslie grew, those things included an after-school reading program, Boys’ and Girls’ Club, Little League, 4-H and taking modeling classes at the John Casablanca Modeling and Career Center. Now in her last year of high school, Hernandez has added National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America, and Student Council to her list of to-dos, in addition to being a multiple-sport athlete and taking college classes—all while maintaining a 3.9 grade point average.
“I used to be really shy, but now I’m pretty outgoing,” Hernandez said. “I like to meet new people and be involved….I hope I’ll be able to balance out a little more than just classes and volleyball (at KWU), get into some clubs.”
But volleyball’s a start, one she got when she created a profile at ncsasports.org, an online athletic recruiting network that matches high school athletes with potential college programs. Two Kansas colleges, KWU in Salina and Southwestern College in Winfield, got in touch. Hernandez wanted to check out both but decided to attend KWU’s advanced performance summer camp in June to demonstrate her skills and learn more. At the end of three days, she had established noticeable rapport with the coaches and other players.
“Everyone was really friendly and I got along with the other girls really well,” Hernandez said. “It kind of felt like I was supposed to be there.”
Beverly said that KWU’s coaches thought so, too. “I think they recognized her encouragement ability….She would be the one lifting (her team) up,” Beverly Hernandez said. “Plus, she was a go-getter…she didn’t have to be told to do anything. She just did it.”
Those traits sound familiar to former Rangely High School volleyball coach Dennis Rohn, who coached the Panthers during their 2011 season.
“She had a great attitude as my captain,” Rohn said. “When it came down to it, I didn’t have to worry about her being ready for the game. She was always there. When it was playing time, practice time, I tell you what, she really was the captain. She hustled and was a great role model for the younger girls.”
Hernandez attributes much of her ability to RHS coaches Rohn and Jimmie Mergelman.
“I think I developed some different fundamental skills with coach Rohn,” Hernandez said. “Changing to libero was a big difference because there’s a lot more responsibility put on your shoulders….Coach Mergelman definitely pushed me a lot, especially this last year. She challenged me and let me know where I stood, which strengthened my mental state during the games.”
In June, after KWU’s summer camp, Hernandez played with Southwestern College’s athletes and coach. But the connection wasn’t there like it was at Kansas Wesleyan.
So after leaving the Southwestern practice, she called KWU coach Fred Aubuchon and verbally committed to the team. Then, in November, she attended a volleyball game with Beverly and formally signed on with the school. Although she’ll miss her family and friends in Colorado, Hernandez feels like she’s made the right move.
“When I first thought about doing this, something was holding me back,” Hernandez said. “My boyfriend, friends and family are all in Colorado. But after I talked to some of my friends about it, they were like, ‘This is a once in a lifetime chance. Take it.’”