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    Carlton rises up: Growth spurt has spurred major college offers

    Junior Holly Carlton aims to stand tall once again for the Potomac Falls High School volleyball team this season.—Times-Mirror/Rick Wasser
    Holly Carlton

    -School: Potomac Falls
    -Class: Junior
    -Sport: Volleyball
    -Position: Setter
    -Height: 6-foot-5
    -GPA: 3.3
    -Study preference: Anything with sports

    In recent years, Loudoun products have begun to dot the rosters of some of the top college volleyball teams around. The latest blue-chipper in that parade of high-level talent is Potomac Falls High School junior setter Holly Carlton.

    One might not have picked Carlton as the recipient of such attentions when she began high school as a 5-foot-8 defensive-minded libero for the Panthers' varsity. By the time she became a 6-foot-2 sophomore, earning all-district and team MVP honors while moving closer to the net, the colleges came calling.

    "It's been a fun process so far," said Carlton, who recently completed a West Coast trip to make several campus visits. She anticipates a decision by next spring.

    Currently, the rising junior stands 6-foot-5, incorporating the experience of a defensive specialist with the frame of a point-clinching striker to be a valuable versatile player.

    "Her strength and quickness have improved quite a bit over the past year, which is amazing having grown so much," Potomac Falls coach Linda Lachey-Helms said.

    Being left-handed adds an advantage to her setting and occasional hitting that can throw defenses for a loop.

    That height, that handedness and those skills have attracted focus from some of the nation's top collegiate programs. Within the past year, Carlton has received scholarship offers from 10 Division I schools, including five of the Top 30 in the 2014 preseason rankings.

    She is a sports devotee, experienced at softball, swimming, even horseback riding. She was introduced to volleyball by older sister Kayla, who went on to star for the Panthers' squad.

    While both were in elementary school, Kayla, a hitter, would practice with younger sister Holly in their backyard. More than once, Holly got a faceful of volleyball from big sis.

    "So that's kind of how I got started," Holly laughed.

    She's played on several club teams, most recently with the Sterling-based Northern Virginia Volleyball Association. In July, she was invited to Colorado Springs to participate in a developmental program under the umbrella of the United States national team.

    "That was a great experience, to train with a bunch of elite players from across the country," she said. "It was really cool to be with all those girls who share the same passion as I have."

    With two years remaining in her high school career, Carlton is not yet a finished product. She needs greater lower-half strength to support her height, and she needs to work on deceptiveness while setting the ball for a teammates' hit.

    Lachey-Helms describes Carlton as "very coach-able" with "great court smarts for a young age."

    Carlton expects her Potomac Falls team, a perennially strong program, to enjoy its usual success this fall. She returns as a captain -- fellow junior Melanie Gonzalez, the Panthers' shortest player at 5-foot-1, is the other.

    Their challenge this year is to bring six new players into the varsity fold, while the sole senior is middle blocker Bailey Conner.

    "We have a great group of girls. I love them all," Carlton said. "We're all looking forward to having a great season."

    Demonstrating effective leadership, on and off the court, is an area in which she seeks to develop. Lachey-Helms believes she's on that track.

    "Her leadership abilities continue to grow," the coach said. "She will freely speak with officials, respectfully asking them questions during a game. She can speak with coaches...with confidence."

    That confidence shines through as she is wooed by some of the biggest names in collegiate volleyball on both coasts.

    "I'm having a ton of fun. This has been one of the best experiences of my life, being recruited," Carlton said. "Having my family support me has been a blessing. Now I'm just looking forward to the high school season and getting on the court."

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