The Valencia High girls volleyball team has an equipment closet, one filled with nets and balls and an assortment of other gear.
None of it, coach Ray Sanchez says, was in any kind of order earlier this year.
“I come in one day, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘You know, I have to get in there and clean up that closet,’” he says. “And I’m not kidding, that same day I walk in there and Kelsey (Knudsen) has the closet cleaned up.”
That, Sanchez says, about sums up Knudsen, a senior who moved from outside hitter to libero this season for the reigning Foothill League champion because, well, her team needed her to.
“Regardless of what (my team needs) now, if that needs to change, I’ll change it and I’ll be so willing. I’ll love every second of it.”
Knudsen earned All-Santa Clarita Valley second-team honors as an outside on last season’s CIF-Southern Section divisional runner-up.
She didn’t lead the way in kills (161), but she was a steady contributor.
“I was never the, ‘Oh, watch out for No. 86 because she’s on fire right now,’” Knudsen says. “I was more of the steady, keep it in, get kills if you can — basically just give a chance to somebody else to win the point if I couldn’t do it myself.”
That, in some ways, is her role this season, diving to the floor with reckless abandon for digs in order to create chances for others.
The Vikings graduated four key seniors after the 2015 campaign (including libero Demi Dawson), which necessitated Knudsen’s position change. She made the move to help the team, yes, but she also loves the position, which she played previously only in club volleyball.
For one, she likes focusing solely on defense and serve receive, having total control of directing an opponent’s serve. For another, she enjoys being different than her older sisters, Delaney and Lindsey Knudsen.
“I like playing something that neither of my sisters did,” Knudsen says. “It’s fun to be different.”
Delaney (a senior beach volleyball player at Pepperdine) and Lindsey (a sophomore on the St. Mary’s College volleyball team) were both star outside hitters at Valencia.
Kelsey says the sisters didn’t compete so much in volleyball growing up, but they did in just about everything else.
“Like who could get in the door first,” Knudsen says. “Those little things. Like anything we could make competitive, we probably did.”
Knudsen, however, didn’t feel pressure entering the program after her two highly successful siblings.
She was already comfortable with Sanchez. And her father, Mark, is an assistant coach.
“He was super helpful,” Knudsen says of her dad, “just guiding me through it anytime I was unsure.”
Knudsen committed in August to St. Mary’s, where she’ll play with Lindsey for the first time.
For now, Knudsen is focused on helping Valencia make a run at a 14th Foothill League title in the last 15 years, something that isn’t a given.
A young Vikings team struggled in preleague play (league opens tonight) and lost 2015 All-SCV Player of the Year Lauren Russ for the season when she fractured her tibia.
Knudsen sees herself as someone who needs to make the younger players comfortable.
“Just make them feel welcome and encourage them that it’s OK to make mistakes, that that’s how you get better,” Knudsen says.
Her penchant to serve others is expressed in another one of Sanchez’s favorite Knudsen tales.
The Vikings were at a tournament in Ventura County over the summer. At some point, they stopped at a mom-and-pop burger joint in Camarillo.
Twenty-odd players, parents and coaches filed inside and placed their orders.
Knudsen stood at the counter, and as people’s plates came up, she brought them out to tables.
“She was there hustling and making sure people got their food,” Sanchez says.
Her mindset is the same on the court. Whatever the Vikings need. Whenever they need it.