Before the 2019 season began, Coach Judy Green was asked who would be a contributor to her squad who hadn’t received the preseason hype of some of her teammates. She paused for a moment, but answered directly.
“I think one person who’s going to be a factor in how well we do is our setter, Kelsey Tangle. This year she has grown to another level in terms of her ability to set,” said Green. “I’m thrilled with her development. She is a tremendous leader and you know what you’re going to get every day when she comes in the gym.”
847 assists, 188 digs, 60 aces and 58 kills later, it’s fair to say Coach Green’s assessment was accurate. Tangle has been entrusted with running the Warriors’ offense and is excelling in the role. Hard work in the spring and summer were key where the junior not only worked with her team, but also had Warriors on her club team. Her and Coach Green agree that’s where she made her biggest strides.
“I grew in that season too,” said Tangle, referring to her club play. “But not as much as when summer really hit and Coach Green really started laying it down and telling us what she really wanted from us.”
In the offseason she got stronger, she got faster, her hands improved and she wants to be in that role and she’s earned the role,” said Green. “She’s got the mind to be a setter because she can think the game as she’s playing the game.”
Kelsey also sees how she approaches the game cerebrally and how it accentuates her play on the court as she directs her team.
“The mental aspect and my ability to run the offense. It’s a little overwhelming,” Tangle said with a smile. “Not going to lie, but it’s a really fun and cool experience. If something doesn’t work and we get stuffed it’s cool to switch it up and it’s relieving to see what I have in my head work.”
When Tangle is in the zone there’s no telling what she will do when the ball comes her way. She played multiple positions last season and, standing at 5’11”, isn’t your prototypical setter which allows for the element of surprise for opposing defenses. You can often hear the Warriors’ bench chanting “Setter kill!” when she goes for a trick shot.
Her 58 kills and 24 blocks on the season are something other teams will have to prepare for when they see her at the net.
“Coach Green told me one time during practice, ‘Stop setting like you’re my height’ and it’s sticking to me and it’ll stick with me when I play in college, hopefully. And ever since then I’ve been jump-setting balls, I’ve been getting up there and faking out other blockers. Then tipping and even swinging at some balls got involved and to me it’s built my confidence because I know how to play smarter and give the defense something they aren’t expecting.”
Kelsey still has time to think about where she’d like to go to school and play at the next level, but, as a product of her upbringing, did some of her own digging and has a good idea of where she might set her sights down the road.
“We are a military family. My grandfather served in the Coast Guard and my aunt is in the Air Force, we’re everywhere and all different branches too,” said Tangle. “Coast Guard really sparked my interest because it’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing, getting out there and helping my country and giving back. I started researching and talking to people and Coast Guard stuck out.”
The Armed Forces would greatly benefit from someone with Tangle’s mindset, but beyond that a secret skill of hers she learned while growing up near the coast could prove quite useful.
“Archery was big in Saraland and I had always played softball, but then the school asked me to try out. Then I did it and became decent at it and I’m left eye dominant even though I shoot right handed so that’s interesting, but then I became really good at it. I was first in the area for fifth grade and I was shooting where the high schoolers were shooting.”
That vision, for now, will continue to translate to the volleyball court. Communication, both verbal and non-verbal, is the difference between elite programs and the rest of the state and Tangle knows she shares that connection with her teammates.
“Bri Wilson is one of them. She definitely looks at me and if I’m calling a play and she’s got some 6’4” blocker on the outside maybe I’ll try to bring her in and she’ll look at me and be like ‘No keep me on the pin. I can do it, keep me on the pin’ and sure enough, she wails away,” says Tangle. “Kinsleigh Sabo’s another one. Even though she’s mainly defense, she’s right there beside me telling me if I have the tip, if I don’t, who I can set. And she constantly reminds me to relax, be free and go with the flow of the game and not overthink.”
That calm reassurance and the confidence it produces are what have Kelsey and the Warriors unafraid to take their shot at the top dogs in 7A.
“We don’t look at a team anymore and just look at their name. And we definitely don’t look at players and think ‘They’re so much better than me, we’re about to get slammed here.’ We just go in and play our game.”
“Coach Green actually took us recently to the place where the Elite Eight will be played in Birmingham and she said ‘You will play on this floor. This is the floor you will play on,’ and we were like ‘Whoa, this just got real.’”
The Warriors have already taken down a couple of number one ranked teams this season. The hype is very real.