From Zion Lutheran to JV to varsity, Litchfield senior Cara Pence has been able to be a difference maker at every level on the volleyball court. Now, Pence will have the opportunity to do that again, but in a whole new environment.
More than 500 miles away in the great white north of Minneapolis, MN, Pence will be a part of a volleyball program at North Central University that is fresh off an Upper Midwest Athlletic Conference consolation championship and its highest conference finish in the program’s history.
“The coach e-mailed me first, then I dug more into it and fell in love,” Pence said about how she became connected with the private Christian college that competes in the NCAA Division III level for athletics. “I chose North Central because of how family-based and Christ-centered they are. I love that and that’s what I strive for.”
For Pence, the opportunity to play in college was one of her goals during her high school career, but only in the last few years did that vision become clearer on what sport she wanted to play.
“It was a big struggle trying to choose between volleyball and basketball because I love both sports,” explained Pence, who will study elementary education at North Central. “I think in my junior year I really fell in love more with volleyball.”
During the 2019-20 season for the Lady Panthers, Pence was one of Litchfield’s top servers, leading the team with 31 aces and posting 122 points, second behind then-senior Devan Morgan. Pence was also second in kills with 75 and had 11 blocks.
That season, combined with her commitment to play club for the Springfield Shock, helped set her up for a bigger role when the Panthers finally got to hit the court in the 2020-2021 school year.
“I think Cara is the epitome of a leader on and off the court. I think she does a great job taking that role when she steps on the court of giving the girls someone to look up to, both physically and mentally,” said Coach Mitchell Hughes. “After every point, even if we lose, she stays strong. That’s something a leader really needs to do and she steps up and does that.”
While the Panthers haven’t been able to get things rolling in the win column, Pence has been a force, stepping up against some of the Panthers’ biggest rivals. In a narrow three-set loss against Hillsboro, the senior hitter approached double digits in both service points and kills, while also teaming up with fellow senior Becky Painter for several blocks.
Pence’s improvement is courtesy of her work ethic and her dedication to volleyball, which ramped up when she decided to play with the Shock during and before her junior and senior years. It also prepared her for her college experience, both on the court and off it.
“I went to a few summer camps, but the club helped me improve a lot more,” Pence said. “Playing with people I’d never met before was also a help, since I’m going to college to play with people I’ve never met before.”
While she’s looking forward to that experience, the players she has met before are what she’ll miss the most about playing in Litchfield.
“It’s a very good group of girls and I love them with all my heart,” Pence said of her teammates, who joined her for her letter of intent signing on April 12. “They are very positive and very supportive of everybody.”
While her teammates and family will be back in Litchfield, a new support system awaits in Minneapolis. With their support, Pence is in store for more of the same type of growth she showed during her four years at Litchfield High School, spiritually, academically and athletically.