The varsity starters of Natrona County’s volleyball team ran across the upper-level landing of the high school’s gym. Two junior varsity teams continued a brief scrimmage below. Upon crossing the makeshift finish line, all but one of the starting Fillies waited alongside their head coach.

Instead of joining her fellow starters, senior Kristy Dick stood directly behind one of the junior varsity teams. Like a general orchestrating her troops, Dick directed the younger Fillies to where they would receive the ball with almost pinpoint precision.

The guidance continued when the varsity team returned to the court. Rarely would the ball receive consecutive hits without Dick shouting directions to her teammates: “Watch from the outside” or “Close!”

That leadership has become par for the course over her four years at Natrona County. She grew up watching her two siblings excel at sports and aspired to do the same. Over time, Dick has transformed from a scrappy tomboy into the team’s wise-beyond-her-age captain.

Tuesday’s practice came to a close and the Fillies huddled. They raised their arms in unison and, on Dick’s signal, they broke the moment with a chant.

Finally, without the cover of competitiveness, she let her big personality unfold with a commanding laugh.

The team exited the gym under a laminated banner. Featured front and center on that poster: Kristy Dick. Her image stands just feet away from the names of former Natrona County greats she grew up idolizing.

Four years of stand-out performances on the volleyball and basketball courts have shaped Dick into a confident and promising young woman.

Now, she faces the decision of what to do next.

‘Definitely a tomboy’

One night as a young girl, Dick spent an evening gazing up at the regulation-sized basketball hoop stationed in her driveway. For years, she had watched her siblings shoot baskets, but she had never been strong enough.

That night was hers, however. She grabbed a volleyball and hurled it toward the rim, the ball brushing the net as it passed through the hoop.

When her parents returned home, she sprinted to tell them the news.

“Daddy! Mommy! I made a basket with a volleyball tonight,” she shrieked.

That’s all it took to set the hook.

She lived vicariously through her two older siblings before she was able to play competitively. She developed an appreciation for volleyball while watching her older sister, Kayla, who passed down lessons when she could. While Kayla was occupied at practice, Kristy was there on the sidelines hitting balls with the assistant coaches.

When Natrona County, with Kayla as the starting setter, made a playoff run to win the 2007 state championship, Kristy was in the student section to cheer alongside her sister’s friends.

Once her sister graduated, she put volleyball away and focused on learning basketball from her brother, Jordan. The two played one-on-one in the garage for hours. He refused to teach her how to shoot, but he did teach her to dribble.

Despite her enthusiasm, her passion for sports alienated her from her peers.

“I was definitely a tomboy,” Dick said. “Like, wearing-sweats-and-a-sweatshirt-to-school-every-day type of girl.”

She would return to school and play against the boys at recess. Even in elementary school, her competitive nature overtook her.

“I wasn’t going to let the boys beat me on the playground,” she said.

Her hard work and grit paid off. By her seventh-grade season, high school coaches were paying attention.

Natrona County’s head volleyball coach, Michael Botkin, made his best attempts to not sway Dick’s decision on where she would attend high school. When he ran into Dick at Walmart during her eighth grade year, she surprised him when she announced she would attend his school.

Botkin fist pumped at the thought of having a player like her on his team.

“One of those types of kids comes around very rarely,” he said. “Not just her athleticism, but everything that she offers off the court and everything she does.”

The decision

An exciting prospect became a sure thing when Dick came into her own on the court as a junior. There was an aura around her during that previous summer at skills camps and in scrimmages that demanded attention.

“You just knew it,” Botkin said. “You could see it.”

Dick was an all-state selection last year in volleyball and is on target to repeat as a senior. She also had a breakout junior season in basketball to earn a spot on the all-state team.

Most teenagers struggle to find their place in life. Dick has admitted she is no exception. All of her clubs and activities pull her in a dozen directions.

But basketball and volleyball were always a constant.

“I feel at home, I feel like I belong somewhere,” she said. “In that moment I feel like I belong and it’s a completely amazing feeling.”

Now, she’s faced with the same decision as every other high school senior: What’s next?

College coaches in both volleyball and basketball have contacted Botkin about Kristy Dick. Opportunities broadened even further when she received her ACT scores, which opened more doors to chase strict academics — she has maintained a 4.0 GPA at Natrona County. But leaving athletics behind would be difficult.

“That’s kind of a stretch for me because I don’t know if I could go cold turkey with no competitive sports and I don’t know if that’s something I want to do,” she said. “Education is pretty high on the list. I want to get a good education. I love school, I love learning and I value it a lot. It’s something that not everybody has the opportunity to do.”

She has already visited a few campuses and remains undecided. First she has to pick a sport, then a coach, a town and her teammates.

Botkin has been excited to act as a conduit in the process, helping schools connect with her.

“We’ll support her in whatever she does,” he said. “She’ll be great in whatever she does. She could play tiddlywinks and she’s going to be good.”

A natural people-pleaser, Dick has to make this choice by herself. Ultimately, she’s the one who will have to live with the consequences.

There have been days where she felt strongly one way, but the strong winds of Wyoming blew her back to center just hours later.

“It’s just kind of like, where’s the best fit for Kristy?” she said.

Role models

Regardless of where she goes, Dick will take with her lessons she learned on Natrona County’s court.

Every day at practice, Dick is reminded of one of her influential figures: former Natrona County standout Kaylee Johnson. Seven banners hang along the second-story railing in the Natrona County gym to signify the number of Gatorade Player of the Year awards the school has won. Three of them bare Johnson’s name.

After Dick made her decision to go to Natrona County she sat in on some of the basketball team’s open gyms. She hung around afterwards and talked with Johnson, as well as head coach Doug Diehl.

Dick marveled at not only Johnson’s abilities, but at the way she interacted with others. Johnson volunteered with Make-A-Wish Foundation, Salvation Army and Kids Against Hunger before graduating to play basketball at Stanford.

“You aspire to be everything about that athlete,” Dick said. “I wanted to be her. I didn’t want to just be her out here on the court, I wanted to be Kaylee in everyday life.”

Through Johnson, she learned that her behavior off the court meant more than her actions on the court.

Dick has carried that mentality with her as she has grown. She, too, has volunteered for numerous programs, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Wyoming.

All the high-fives that she has given to Casper’s youth and the corresponding jubilant faces have never ceased to influence her.

“I think that helps me in my every day actions,” she said. “If kids look up to me on the court, how much more do they look up to me in the way that I act with people or with school?”

Dick’s not invincible, however. Like many other teens, she acknowledged how difficult maintaining individuality can be through adolescence. It’s tragic that many don’t embrace themselves until later in their high school years, if at all, she said.

But she’s proud of the times she has made a fool of herself. She laughed at reminders of how vocal she is at football games — it’s simply who she is.

“I’m just a loud, crazy, big personality person and I think that that’s something women haven’t always been allowed to be: this big personality person. Or not that they’re not allowed to be that, but that they’re not valued for that,” Dick said. “You read a lot of books or watch a lot of movies and the main character is a woman and she’s quiet, gentle and frail and that’s how she’s described. That’s never how I’ve been.”

She grew up a tomboy, raised in sweats by her siblings. Now, one of the best high school athletes in the state, she hopes other young girls in Wyoming won’t be afraid to be themselves.

“I want girls to be able to know that they can be crazy and athletic and that doesn’t mean that they aren’t as pretty or as girly,” Dick said. “I’ve learned that I can have a big personality but I can still be girly, I can still be, I don’t have to be frail and quiet or act not as smart for people to like you sometimes. The biggest thing is to be yourself and that’s when you feel the best about yourself and you don’t feel as though you don’t fit in.”

Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @Brady_CST

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Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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