At first, Kendall Mikkelsen could not help but feel guilty.
The 5-foot-11 middle hitter at Woodbridge was ecstatic to join the varsity volleyball team as a freshman with no club experience.
But she knew why the spot was open. Mikkelsen made the team because her older sister could not.
When junior Maegan Mikkelsen crumpled to the floor in a late summer AAU basketball game, she left a void in the Vikings’ lineup.
A torn anterior cruciate ligmanent meant the starting middle who led the team with 108 blocks — 60 more than anyone on the team — in 2012 would be holding a clipboard and earning her letter as a statistician.
With one Mikkelsen down, Coach Jean Morrissey kept the middle position in the family.
Maegan started “pre-hab” for her impending hamstring graft surgery, and Kendall began learning.
Morrissey said she has to remind herself the younger Mikkelsen is a freshman.
“For her experience, she’s doing a heck of a job,” the coach said. “She’s a ctually a very coachable young lady.”
In the beginning of the season, Mikkelsen said she felt bad filling her sister's role. She watched as Maegan was visibly frustrated in warmups. But once the games started, the big sister transformed.
“She just cheers me on,” Kendall Mikkelsen said. “She’s not saying anything negative.”
With her sister behind her, Mikkelsen began to revel in her accomplishment. Maegan bragged about her younger sister making varsity as a freshman, a feat she could not accomplish.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “I’m definitely proud, but I kind of wish I was there instead. She’s doing well.”
While Kendall’s development progressed, Maegan waited for a scalpel.
The Mikkelsens’ father is an Air Force senior master sergeant and knee surgery was scheduled at Walter Reed Bethesda, where Maegan said due to furloughs, her surgeon only had access to one operating room.
Because only two surgeries could be performed per week, Maegan’s procedure was pushed to Sept. 11. Then a wounded soldier required an operating room, and the surgery was delayed another week.
The operation was a success. Maegan said she hopes to recover in six months, giving her time to return to volleyball as a senior and share the court with Kendall.
On Tuesday, with her leg locked 180 degrees in an immobility brace, she sat next to her sister on the school bus en route to Forest Park, singing volleyball chants with the rest of the team.
Fortunately, the 5-foot libero had the perfect teacher waiting for her: three-time All-Met Paige Sekerak.
Sekerak is now the starting libero at Towson, but the metaphorical torch has been passed. After Sekerak and five other seniors led the Falcons to the Maryland 2A semifinals in 2010, Kenneweg and five other seniors have led this year’s team to a perfect 7-0 record through the first month of the season.
“If you’re lucky as a coach, you get those kids to keep paying it forward,” Coach Fran DuVall said. “They lead, they learn from good leaders, and then they hopefully share that leadership with some of the kids that are younger than they are. It’s a cycle.”
Kenneweg’s growth as a leader has been matched only by her growth on the court. The Seton Hall commit spent last summer developing a quicker first step and improving her range so that she could more effectively patrol the backcourt. Repeatedly going after tougher shots gave Kenneweg confidence that she could reach them in a match.
“I just kind of had to go for it,” she said. “There were no stutter steps. You just have to go, and once you go once, you have to keep going so your teammates trust you.”
With only one 6-footer on the team, Poolesville builds its offense upon fundamentally-sound defense, which begins and ends with Kenneweg.
“She’s going to be a hard kid to replace, just because of her passion,” DuVall said. “She works hard at it, though. She’s a kid who’s worked every day at her skill, every day at getting better and being better. It’s nice to have somebody in the gym like that. I can honestly say I have a gym full of kids like that.”
Loudoun County defended its top-ranked status with a road sweep over then-No. 3 Stone Bridge on Monday night. . . . Madison shot up the rankings by downing the same Bulldogs squad in a Tuesday match that went to four sets. Three of those periods were decided by five points or less... Seventh-ranked Paul VI Catholic will vie for private school supremacy by hosting Flint Hill Wednesday night. . . . Sherwood hasn’t dropped a set since Sept. 12, when the Warriors won a five-set bout with Broadneck. . . . While Howard County likely has the toughest teams in Maryland this year, there’s plenty of parity across the state. Twelve teams in Anne Arundel County, Howard County and Montgomery County have one or no losses to date.
1. Loudoun County (10-0) LR: 1
2. Madison (18-0) LR: 6
3. Flint Hill (13-1) LR: 2
4. Langley (13-1) LR: 4
5. Sherwood (12-1) LR: 5
6. Stone Bridge (11-2) LR: 3
7. Paul VI Catholic (12-1) LR: 7
8. Holy Cross (14-1) LR: 8
9. Howard (6-1) LR: NR
10. River Hill (5-1) LR: 9
Dropped out: No. 10 Damascus (6-1)
On the bubble: Arundel (5-1), Poolesville (7-0), Tuscarora (Va.) (10-1)