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Sarasota Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 7 months ago

Family acts as heartbeat of Rams volleyball

After this season, only one Walker sibling will remain at Riverview.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

Since 2012, there has always been a Walker on the Riverview High volleyball team. 

First, it was Kenzie, who graduated after the 2015-2016 season. Then Kayla, who left after 2017-2018. On Oct. 10, Riah Walker will walk onto the court for Senior Night. She will be joined by the fourth and final Walker sister, Maddie, her freshman teammate. Over these seven seasons — and, the Rams hope, the next three — the Walkers have been part of some of the most successful teams in program history, including a 21-2 mark in 2015 and state final four appearances in 2016 and 2018. 

This is the first time Riah and Maddie have been on the same team. It has been a learning experience, they said, but a fun one. They were close before, but now spend most of their free time chatting about the Rams. Riah drives Maddie home from school every day. 

All the Walkers were introduced to the game young, but it came quicker to some than others. 

"I was definitely forced into it [watching her sisters play]," Maddie said. "When I was younger, I didn't like watching it, so I didn't think I would like playing it, either. My parents got me to play when I was 7 and I learned to love it. Now it's all I do. It is all I think about. I love the competition and how passionate people can be about it."

Riverview freshman Maddie Walker and senior Riah Walker have bonded this season over volleyball.

The youngest Walker, a right-side hitter, has been getting opportunities in big spots and making them count. She recorded the winning kill in the Rams’ 3-1 road victory against Cardinal Mooney High, then collapsed into tears. Riah said it was cool to see Maddie get so into the moment — and come up big. Maddie has gotten more aggressive over the course of the season, Riah said, more willing to go for balls she knows she can get and slam them home. When Maddie and middle blocker Sam Reisky collided while going for the ball in a match against Lakewood Ranch, Maddie still managed to spike a ball straight down before falling to the court. Riah was the first one there to pick her up and give her a hug. 

Kenzie, Kayla and Riah have all been captains, and they have all learned from each other. Riah, a libero (defensive specialist) and a Kentucky commit, said the aggressiveness Maddie is now showing is something she has emphasized to her sister. Freshman or not, she needs to be loud and match her teammates’ willingness to do whatever it takes to win. The notion is something Riah learned from Kayla in her first season, she said. 

Rams coach Nickie Halbert has known the Walker family since her college days at Elon University, when she would come home on breaks and help her dad, Gary Halbert, coach club volleyball. Kenzie was on his team then, and she would spot Riah running around. Since joining Riverview in 2017, Halbert has coached three of the girls herself, and said the experience of doing so has been rewarding. 

“They are all competitive,” Halbert said. “Some more than others, of the four, but they all just want to win. They want to be in the gym. They want to get better. Their competitiveness and work ethic are definitely shared and that’s what you want in your players.

“This is something that is rare. You do not typically get to coach a lot of the same family. They have literally been Riverview Rams since they were little. To be a part of that, for them to have allowed me to be such a big part of their lives, is something special and something I am going to cherish forever.”

After this season, Maddie will be the lone Walker left at Riverview. Living up to the family legacy is something that she thinks about, she said, and adds pressure to an already pressure-filled sport. But Riah and Halbert are not worried. She’s a Walker, after all: She’s got the heart and the skills to keep the success going.

I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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