Karcich Earns Most Improved Honors on the Court
Kaia Karcich knew she that wanted to play sports entering high school, but she was unsure about which one to choose for the fall season. While deciding between field hockey and volleyball, Kaia’s intramural experience with volleyball in 7th and 8th grade ultimately tipped the scales for her.
“When I was deciding between the sports, I knew from intramurals that volleyball was for me,” says Kaia. “As it progressed, I decided to take it more seriously, and now I definitely want to pursue playing in college.”
Kaia has been working toward her goal ever since then as a member of the Valley Regional girls’ volleyball team. Following her sophomore season, Kaia joined Husky Volleyball out of South Windsor in order to sharpen her game and, this year, she earned a starting varsity spot for the Warriors as their libero—a defensive specialist position that plays in the back row.
Kaia had always looked up to Emma Counter, who played libero and was a captain of the team last season. After watching Counter for two years, Kaia knew she wanted to become both the starting libero and a captain for Valley. Kaia was recently named one of the Warriors’ captains for the 2022 campaign alongside setter Sophie Scrivo and middle hitter Audrey Board.
“Emma graduated last year and was the person I looked up to so much. I knew since freshman year I wanted to be a captain,” Kaia says. “I’ve looked up to my captains for my three years, and Emma was a captain last year, and I just wanted to be her since I was a freshman. It feels good I was able to accomplish my goals.”
While Kaia was excited to realize her goal of playing libero for Valley, it was not an easy adjustment. Not only was Kaia now playing at the varsity level, but the team also had two new coaches.
Kaia says that she “went through a slump” at the beginning of the 2021 season. Kaia’s coaches, Head Coach Sofia Cullina and Assistant Coach Katie Cullina, took note of Kaia’s struggles and explained that, as a libero, Kaia needed to be a role model for the team. Sofia Cullina was also a libero in her playing days at Valley and used her experience to help Kaia.
“I was nervous coming in with new coaches, but I couldn’t be happier with the way it evolved, and I love my coaches so much,” says Kaia, who lives in Deep River. “It’s nice to have that bond with them, and I felt like I could really go to them for anything.”
Sofia Cullina felt that Kaia was putting “lot of pressure on herself to be perfect for the team” during the early portion of the season. After having some conversations about moving on from mistakes, Cullina saw Kaia make adjustments on the volleyball court.
“Kaia started to realize that with more confidence and less self-doubt, her passing was improving. She had learned a hard lesson this year, but she learned it quickly, and began to excel in her role as libero,” Cullina says. “Kaia became someone we were confident would go out on the court and give everything she had. It was so nice to see her grow throughout this season, and I am so excited to have her back on the court with us next year.”
Kaia finished the year with 330 digs, placing her fourth in the Shoreline Conference. She also recorded a team-best 56 aces for the Warriors, who posted a mark of 12-10 while securing berths in both Shorelines and states this fall. Kaia’s efforts were rewarded when she received the Most Improved Award for Coach Cullina’s team at the postseason banquet.
“Kaia’s skills have developed considerably, which was evident by the end of the season. However, the biggest growth that we saw in her was her mental toughness, which is a requirement for the position she plays,” says Cullina. “Since the start of the season, Kaia had her sight set on one position, and she was going to do whatever it took to claim that spot. She always came to practice ready to give her all and improve her skills.”
Kaia plans to continue improving her skills in advance of her senior season. Kaia recently tried out for the Husky Volleyball high-performance team and is awaiting the results. She also stays active throughout the winter by working out at Revival Functional Fitness in Madison.
In the spring, Kaia will return to a sport that is fairly new to her. As a sophomore, Kaia decided to join the Valley crew program and promptly earned a varsity spot. Kaia is looking forward to keep honing her rowing skills and “get more races in” this spring.
Kaia participated in several sports while growing up. She spent eight years training at Flip-Flop Gymnastics and also played softball from age 7 through 8th grade. Kaia also planned to play lacrosse as a freshman at Valley, but the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19.
Kaia comes from an athletic family. Her brother Braden is a freshman who ran cross country for Valley this fall and is also going to play basketball and baseball. Both of Kaia’s parents, Derek and Jen, are physical education teachers, and Kaia enjoys hearing stories about her dad’s athletic career, which includes being named All-State at Morgan and then winning the 1998 Division III World Series with the Eastern Connecticut State University baseball team.
“I definitely look up to him for accomplishing and being recognized for something like that,” Kaia says. “My parents see me doing something I love, and they support it. They love watching the games.”
In addition to the support of her family and her coaches, Kaia feels grateful for how her boyfriend Jake Burdick, a senior vice captain for the Valley boys’ soccer team, challenges her. Kaia notes that she “wouldn’t be in position where I am or think I could be in it if he didn’t push me like he does.”
Kaia not only pushes herself athletically, but academically, as well. When she was a freshman at Valley, Kaia struggled in school and decided that she had to make a change. Kaia began to focus more on her studies and was soon earning high honors. Last year, she joined Valley’s International Baccalaureate program, which offers high-level academic courses that are weighted similarly to Advanced Placement classes.
While she is still a junior, Kaia has started to explore her college options. Kaia has some family in North Carolina and may look at schools in that area, but is most likely planning on staying closer to home as she loves “to be with my family all the time.” Kaia is considering Sacred Heart, Endicott, and Merrimack at this time.
For now, though, Kaia will continue to hone her volleyball skills in order to achieve her goal of playing in college. She also has high hopes for her senior season with the Warriors.
“This year, we were coming out of COVID and into a season with two new coaches, but after this season, so many people are excited to get into the next season,” says Kaia. “We beat the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the Shoreline this season, so we want to take the Shoreline Conference championship. This year, we also qualified states for the first time in a while, so we want to do that again.”