Cote’s ‘phenomenal’ improvement made her one of Maine’s best players

BIDDEFORD — It’s often said there’s nothing sadder in life, or sports, than wasted potential.

Whether it’s something she consciously thinks about or not, they’re words that Kendra Cote seems to live by.

Cote, a sophomore at Biddeford, only started playing volleyball last fall but has already turned into one of the state’s most devastating front-line forces thanks to a combination of height, speed, hitting ability, coordination and all-around natural ability.

That, combined with what Tigers head coach Ruth Shaw termed an “unbelievable desire to get better,” made the 6-foot-2 Cote one of the best middle hitters in Maine this season.

“Kendra’s put in a lot of work and effort,” Shaw said. “She spent a lot of time over the last winter and summer playing and you can tell. She improved 110 percent. When you get her with the right set, there’s nothing that’s going to stop her.”

Opponents learned that this fall as Cote amassed 177 kills with a kill percentage of 55.3 percent and a hitting percentage of .369, while also compiling 41 blocks as her two-way play helped the Tigers to a 9-5 regular-season record before a loss to eventual state runner-up Falmouth in the Class A quarterfinals.

For those accomplishments, Cote is the Journal Tribune’s 2014 Volleyball Player of the Year.

“In the 15 years of running this program I don’t think I’ve ever had a player who can hit the ball down in front of the 10-foot line and hit it with such speed that nobody’s going to touch it,” Shaw said. “On defense, she puts up a wall with her block and her handling skills and even her passing skills in the back row for a tall girl are already very nice.

“To improve the way she’s improved, it really is phenomenal.”

With the lack of a middle school program at Biddeford, Cote took part in some summer camps during seventh and eighth grade but didn’t start playing an organized fashion until her freshman year, when she earned an SMAA all-conference honorable mention selection.

To further her skills, Cote played in the Maine Junior Olympic program last winter while also playing basketball for the high school team, a double she again plans to do this winter. That, Shaw said, is but one example of Cote trying to maximize her potential in a game she only just took up.

“She’s just so coachable and has such a love for the game now,” Shaw said. “You can see it in everything she does. She’s always at practice early, she’s always thinking volleyball; she’s a great kid to coach because she’s so driven to succeed. She’s like a sponge.”

It’s not just Shaw who’s seen Cote’s diligence paying off. Thornton Academy coach Keith O’Leary’s team played Biddeford twice this fall on Sept. 11 and then Oct. 16 ”“ Cote had 11 kills in both matches, with seven combined blocks ”“ and was able to see first-hand her development over just that period.

“She has taken to the game like a fish to water,” said O’Leary. “She’s a very intelligent player for her experience. She places the ball very well and unloads very well. There’s not a lot of weak spots to her game. We definitely have to make our game plan around her.”

While Cote has made tremendous strides, Shaw said she’s only just now beginning to crack the surface of her potential.

The next steps, Shaw said, come more with the thinking side of the game; for instance, knowing when to tip the ball over the block instead of going with all-out power, learning how to read the other side of the net to better find the holes in a defense and understanding how to angle her arms so that her blocks stay in bounds instead of going out.

Improving the consistency and control of her serve ”“ Cote had only a 68.8 percent serving percentage this season with 17 aces against 23 errors ”“ will also be crucial moving forward.

“She will have an all-around game for sure by her senior year, if not next year,” Shaw said. “I’ve had officials come up to me over the past year and say she has Division I potential because of her height and her ability in the front row to block and hit the ball. I’ve never had a player like her.”

It was an assessment O’Leary wholeheartedly agreed with.

“She has the potential to be one of the best volleyball players to come out of the state of Maine,” he said. “I would think that if she keeps on this progression she has D-I potential. She’s just that kind of player.”

For now, though, Cote has two years of high school remaining to make her mark. Considering how far she’s come in just two seasons, Shaw said the sky remains the limit.

“Kendra’s a rare person who plays this game and has learned how to play it this well in this amount of time, combined with the height and skill she has,” Shaw said. “I’ve been coaching here for 15 years, and seeing her growth has been one of the most satisfying things.

“If she continues on this path of wanting to learn more, I can’t imagine what she’s going to be like her senior year and the opportunities she’s going to have moving forward.”

Staff Writer Cameron Dunbar can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 323 or [email protected]

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