Staples girls volleyball coach Jon Shepro describes Cornell-bound Amelia Brackett as an outstanding athlete who can jump through the gym and hit the ball with authority. He also added that she is the best player he's coached in his 20 years.
Not bad for someone who started playing the sport in eighth grade.
The 5-foot-11-inch tall Brackett will soon depart for college, but leaves behind a lasting legacy in Staples colors. A three-year starter, Brackett grew by leaps and bounds each season and saved her best for last, in the fall of 2013.
"I remember her on the freshman team; she was OK and not great," Shepro said. "She made the varsity team as a sophomore and between her sophomore and junior years she really grew and her volleyball skills matched her athleticism. Senior year she came into her own."
Last fall, Brackett led Staples to its finest season in more than two decades. The Wreckers went 22-3 and reached the FCIAC and Class LL championship games. The season included two wins over Darien; Staples hadn't defeated the Blue Wave since 1991.
"The first time we beat Darien, that was awesome," Brackett said. "It felt like we were doing it for all the Staples teams that came before us that couldn't beat Darien. We did it more for them than ourselves."
Brackett saved her best for the big games, according to Shepro.
"She was playing well while other teams were just keying on her," Shepro said. "The goal of the other teams was to stop her, and she was still able to do serious damage."
Not all star athletes are outstanding from the beginning of their careers. Brackett's jump came between her sophomore and junior years. Brackett's surge coincided with playing volleyball all year. Brackett played her club volleyball for TCA, based in Trumbull, and honed her skills in a competitive environment.
"I was a new player pretty much, so I was just playing a lot," Brackett said. "I never took a break; I played all summer, all year round."
In addition to her skills on the court, Brackett developed into a leader for the Wreckers and set a positive example to her younger teammates.
"(Brackett) was a senior leader," Shepro said. "She had a lot of fun doing it; she always had a smile on her face and never took herself too seriously."
Brackett was named first-team All-FCIAC as well as All-State. She was named MVP of the Connecticut Post's All-Star girls volleyball team in December.
Brackett attended a camp at Cornell, in Ithaca, N.Y., last year and caught the attention of coach Melissa Batie-Smoose and her staff. While the Northeast isn't a hotbed for volleyball recruiting, Brackett's potential made her a good fit with the program.
"We liked her athleticism," Batie-Smoose said. "Her learning curve is going to be high; she is very coachable. She has a high ceiling that hasn't been touched yet."
Brackett is recovering from a stress fracture that she sustained in February and might miss most of her freshman season. Batie-Smoose noted that redeveloping Brackett's strength with be crucial for her to achieve success at the next level. Cornell opens its season Sept. 5.
"Everyone heals differently," Batie-Smoose said. "That way, if we get her back early, it's just a bonus. We knew that bringing her in. We had to refine the volleyball skills. This game is a lot faster and physical at the next level. ... We definitely see that she can help us out on the right side by the time she's a sophomore."
The Big Red are 17-32 over the past two seasons, and Brackett hopes to bring a winning culture to the program.
"I think the entire incoming class, we already have good chemistry and commitment," Brackett said. "Now it's about developing our skills and coming together."