MOUNT CARMEL -- When Mount Carmel Head Volleyball Coach Kelsey Beckerman was looking for a longer presence at the net in 2016, Beckerman turned to a freshman who had little experience -- Kassidy Drone.
Drone was thrust into the role amidst the Vincennes match midway through the season, assuming the vital role at such an early stage due to her size at the setter position, offering the versatility to rise to block shots at the net if needed. Being inserted into the setter role at such a young age is certainly a daunting task, but one Drone said was more exciting than anything.
"I worked really hard for it and since there and since there was no competition below me I felt like I could literally like work as hard as I could to get into that spot." Drone recalled.
For Beckerman to trust a freshman on such a stage showed just how much potential she saw in Drone, who joined fellow (then) freshman Madeline Goldman as freshman starters.
"Especially Madeline and Kassidy starting with their freshman year," Beckerman spoke of Drone and Goldman. "Their skills were the reason they started to play more. Mentally at that point they were still learning the game, what we wanted them to do as far as our program goes, but skill wise that's where we needed them to be."
Drone had just begun playing volleyball in sixth grade, where she bridged considerable chemistry with her teammates and assumed the setter role. Drone's mom, Dawn, recalled her daughter's team competing in Allendale's seventh grade tournament as sixth graders and winning the whole thing.
Volleyball was just a sport that came naturally to Drone, her parents explained.
"It's like she's been groomed for it," Todd Drone spoke of his eldest daughter. "It's like a quarterback, you start out early trying to groom them so when they're seventh and eighth graders they continue that into high school and that's what they've done for her."
As she was flung into the setter role for a cast of older girls, Drone soon became acclimated with many of upperclassmen, building tight-knit relationships with many of the girls, especially the junior class at the time, girls such as Kylie Applebey.
Todd Drone explained that Applebey and her fellow upperclassmen took Kassidy under their wings per say, showing the then freshman the ropes of varsity volleyball and accelerating her development as a growing volleyball player. Thus beginning what's been a promising career.
OFF THE COURT: Growing up in the Drone household Kassidy was the eldest of three girls, Kenley (sophomore) and Keely (first grade) being her sisters.
Kassidy's had to serve as a role mode and has been receptive to the role with the youngest, Keely, being just six years old. Todd and Dawn say Keely really admires and looks up to Kassidy, and Kassidy reciprocates such attention to her youngest sister.
"She really looks up to Kassidy and Kassidy's really good to her," Todd Drone said. "Just the other day, she comes home from practice, I know she's tired and she turned around and took Keely into town, just ride around for a minute, let her be involved."
Her relationship with Kenley is somewhat complicated. Kassidy herself confessed she's too hard on Kenley at times, as they both play on Mount Carmel High School's volleyball team together.
Though they're prone to butting heads and having their differences, Todd and Dawn feel as if the two have a mutual respect for each other.
"Kenley, I know they argue at times, but I think Kenley really respects Kassidy and vice versa," Todd Drone said. "Kassidy gives her her room that she needs, makes her do things on her own but then turns around and says hey, don't do something crazy."
Herself, Kassidy really looks up to her parents, who she says have supported her the entire way. Her dad's helped her refine her craft with volleyball and basketball, with both of them being there for every game along the way.
"They really support and always come to all of my games," Kassidy Drone spoke of her parents. "My dad's always working with me, basketball and volleyball. They're definitely my biggest support system."
As with any teen her age Kassidy has other interests though. She enjoys hanging out with her friends (many of whom play volleyball as well), although they're not too dependent on each other where they always have to be around each other, she's artistic, likes to draw, and according to Dawn really admires Canadian popstar Shawn Mendes.
"She's obsessed with Shawn Mendes," Dawn Drone said. "She's been to the concert twice. She went down to Tampa and saw him there. This summer she went and saw him in St. Louis. She thinks she's going to go to see him every time he gets close but I don't know. She hates Camila Cabello, who's his girlfriend."
She's also a tremendous student, residing as a member of National Honor Society and is involved with Wabash General Hospital's Health Op program.
Kassidy aspires to be a nurse or nurse practitioner one day, and is thoroughly vetted by Todd Drone's cousin, Dr. Julko Fullop, an orthopaedic surgeon at Wabash General Hospital.
"She went and watched the surgery the other day and really liked that," Dawn Drone said. "Dr. Fullop and Todd are cousins so he was kind of picking her brain. She said he was almost making me second guess."
17 years is hard to frame into one article, but one story about sums up some of the fun the Drone family has had.
To the untrained ear the word seagull is meaningless, just a visual image of a bird hovering over water, sometimes pestering friendly beachgoers. To the Drone family, the word seagull draws an entirely different meaning.
If they're trying to get Kassidy to run for something now, all Todd and Dawn have to yell is 'Seagull!' and their eldest daughter will dash.
Odd, right? Well it goes back to a time when Todd briefly thought Kassidy had channeled her inner Jesus and had walked on water.
Todd and Dawn recalled Kassidy eating a bag of chips on the beach in Florida, but held one up in the air and was being pursued by countless seagulls on the beach.
"Kassidy was out there on the beach eating doritos or some sort of chips, the next thing we know we look over and these seagulls are chasing her as she's holding this chip up in the air and I could have swore she walked on water from the beach to the sandbar," Todd Drone laughed. "The whole time these seagulls are just diving down at her."
It's safe to assume one of the seagulls eventually won out and secured the so desired chip. They notoriously pursue any vacant food on a beach until someone caves in.
2018-2019: Last year it was a rough year for Mount Carmel's volleyball team, who enjoyed some early season success, but found trouble midway through the year against a slew of Big Eight Conference foes amidst a grueling stretch.
All the while Beckerman was banking on her junior class to gain the experience needed and be ready to guide as seniors, now the top girls on the totem pole.
The group finished strong last year despite an 11-17 finish, continuing an upward trajectory into the end of last season and setting their sights on the 2019 season.
"Last year at the end of the season they were regional focused for this year because that's what their goal is and all five of them are going to do what it takes to get there."
For them to have a successful campaign Beckerman knew Drone's communcation would be a key. She had been slowly trying to coerce Drone out of her comfort zone since her sophomore year, attempting to get her to assume more of a leadership role and take control as the setter on the floor.
"We really pushed her out of her comfort zone in her sophomore and junior years, you have those leadership qualities, we want to see them and we're seeing them from her this year," Beckerman spoke of Drone. "She rallies her team when she needs to, she's telling her hitters what they need to do if something's miscommunicated, she's really taken on that senior leadership role."
As the setter, Drone needed to be able to direct her hitters and back row defenders, calling out balls, communicating what could be to come, and it was just something Drone wasn't initially comfortable with. But signs of improvement did begin, starting last season and vastly improved into this season.
Todd and Dawn said they could tell a distinct difference, as Dawn said she can vividly hear Kassidy calling out for balls from her seat now.
"Kassidy's a shy person, her first couple years she let people dictate what was going on even though she could do her role, she wasn't a vocal person," Todd Drone spoke of Kassidy. "I think last year she stepped up, this year's she been even more vocal, just getting her teammates playing at the potential that they can play."
"I would say I'm very vocal," Kassidy Drone added. "I can tell when someone's have a rough night so I try to pick them up on the court. I'm always communicating with the hitters and passers."
Being the setter isn't the most glorifying position in the world, as your contributions can often go unnoticed as your teammates rack up kills, aces and so on, but Drone says she feels a sense of accomplishment when her teammates score on an assist from her.
Her parents said Kassidy fits that bill, she's not one to seek the recognition, she's ok serving in her role and doing what it takes to push her team to a victory.
"Kassidy doesn't want the awards or recognition, she just wants to go out and play," Todd Drone spoke of Kassidy. "If her teammates get all the digs, spikes and aces she's ok with that. She knows she's kind of the quarterback of it."
Once the season began her Lady Aces looked like an entirely different group. All their hard work, the lumps they endured in the past two years (15-40 record), all seemed to pay off.
The group's incredible chemistry has been a major factor for their success. Between all five seniors and even the juniors, they appear to never get perturbed at one another, instead keeping a level head and moving on to the next play.
Drone's excelled along the way, having been a calming presence at the setter position who's shown the ability to be aggressive and take control with tips at the net when needed and rarely committing errors.
They've pieced together a tremendous campaign to date, boasting an 11-5 record, and even impressing in their losses. Close matches against excellent teams such as Fairfield (22-1), Mount Vernon (18-7), teams the Lady Aces would have folded against in the past, exemplifying those days are over in what's been a transcendent year for the program.
"A lot of people in Mount Carmel didn't think we were going to be that close to them and we were able to," Kassidy Drone spoke of her team's match against Fairfield. "I think it showed a lot of our fans that we've improved over the years."
They've achieved a number of firsts and some incredible memories. They defeated Edwards County for the first time under Beckerman's tenure, and defeated a Big Eight team (Princeton) for the first time as well, two monumental victories for the program, one that had the girls overly excited following the conclusion of the match. Drone's thrived in the two matches as well, recording a season-high 47 assists in their four-set victory over Princeton.
Drone specifically named the Edwards County match as her favorite memory as a member of the team.
Senior Night is rapidly approaching though and a new favorite memory will likely be made, as Drone and the four other seniors say farewell to the program in their final home game.
It'll actually be the first Senior Night of the season for Drone, as she's a member of the girls basketball team as well, but she's expecting it to be an emotional night all the same. Drone said she thinks she'll be quite emotional, with it being her final home game with these girls who she's built such a tight-knit connection with.
"Lots of tears," Kassidy Drone said. "I feel like all of us plus my parents will be in tears just because it's ending a chapter of my life. Just last game, you're not going to be playing with these people again so."
Todd Drone said though it's going to be emotional, it's more of a celebration than anything, a celebration of the work she's put in to this point.
"It's going to be joyful, I'll be honest with you, I'll probably crack a tear or two," Todd Drone spoke of Senior Night. "As soon as Kassidy sees us she's going to have trouble. This is something she's worked for, we've all worked for for a long time. It shouldn't be an emotional or sad thing, we're blessed she's had good grades her whole time in high school, has stayed out of trouble, some students don't get that opportunity because they go the wrong direction. It's more of a blessing that we're going through this."
"I'm going to try not to cry." Dawn Drone interjected.
Mount Carmel's success along with Drone's steady individual success drew the attention of Wabash Valley College volleyball coaches Mark Colvin and Syreeta Willis, who've been in communication with Drone. Drone said she's verbally committed to the Lady Warriors, and plans to finalize her intent to attend Wabash Valley in the November signing period.
The hometown Lady Warriors will be losing starting setter, sophomore Kate Broster to graduation, leaving a vacancy at the setter position.
"That was her decision," Dawn Drone explained. "She knew she wants to go into nursing and that Wabash has a pretty good nursing program and she can continue to USI or wherever after that. When Syreeta had asked her to come out one day after practice she asked me what I thought they wanted, I was like, 'I don't know.' She came home and just made a joke about it like, 'They told me they didn't want me.' I said ok, and she was like, 'I'm just kidding.' We were ok with that too."
They're enthusiastic they'll still have their eldest daughter around the house for a couple years at least, which might help minimize their Senior Night rush of emotions.
Drone did add she's considering the University of Southern Indiana for when her time at Wabash Valley eventually comes to a close.
As one chapter ends and the next begins, both Todd and Dawn Drone know they raised Kassidy right, and trust her in whatever walk of life she chooses.
"Just very proud," Todd Drone said. "Very good kid, a very good young adult. We just wish her the best of luck in whatever she does. We wish her teammates both in volleyball and basketball the best of luck for the rest of this year."
Beckerman will miss Kassidy's fun going personality, as well as her presence as the team's long time setter.
"She's a presence," Beckerman said. "It's a presence that'll greatly be missed because she knows when to have fun, when to be silly, but at the same time knows if that's changing to switch, she gets serious, she's getting her team serious. She's that middle line, understands when she needs to say something to somebody to boost them up but also understands when she needs to bring somebody down too. Just that dynamic of her working with her hitters, her working with her back row people. It's tough when you've had someone setting for four years and all of the sudden they're gone."
Mount Carmel's Senior Night will be on Monday, Oct. 14 against Lawrenceville with the freshmen team beginning the night at 5:15 p.m., offering fans one last chance to witness Drone and her senior class compete as Lady Aces at the Hilltop.