MONUMENT - Claire Felix finds the view from above quite appealing.
The Lewis-Palmer 6-foot-6 middle blocker has used her height and skill to become one of the best volleyball players in Colorado. UCLA thought so, too. That's why the Pac-12 power - currently ranked sixth in the nation - was eager to offer her a scholarship after her sophomore year.
“It's been about a year and a half since I've been committed,” Felix said. “I'll sign at the early signing date in November.”
Felix chose UCLA for a variety of reasons.
“I really wanted to go someplace that felt like home,” she said. “I really wanted a big school environment and I wanted to go to a top 10 program. I really love the atmosphere there.”
Felix was recruited by several big-time programs, including California, Stanford, USC, Penn State, Texas and Washington.
Felix attended The Classical Academy from kindergarten through her junior year, starring for the Titans' volleyball team beginning as a freshman. TCA finished third at state in Class 3A her sophomore year and fifth her junior season.
But volleyball was not always Felix's activity of choice. She was a dancer, concentrating on ballet, tap and jazz. But when she began to grow at an accelerated rate when she about nine, causing her excessive pain in her legs and forcing her get around on crutches.
“Not only would it be hard to find a really tall partner as I got older and more into dance, it was just taking a huge toll on my body,” she said. “I had to find something else to do and I chose volleyball.”
Felix had grown to 6-5 by her sophomore year. Doctors have predicted she could grow to 6-7. By comparison, the tallest players on UCLA's roster are 6-5 Tabi Love and 6-4 Karsta Lowe.
“When we're in state, there's no one taller than me,” Felix said.
Felix hardly relies on her height to be an effective volleyball player.
“People are always saying `You're tall, so you're good at sports.' Being tall helps, but I'm dedicated to the sport I play and I have a passion for it. I love it. I walk in the gym everyday and can't get enough of volleyball.”
Felix transferred to Lewis-Palmer largely for academic reasons. She needed two advanced placement classes, so she chose environmental science and calculus.
“I love playing with everyone on this team,” Felix said. “We are such a close-knit family. I'm friends with them on the court and off the court. There's nothing that can tear us apart.”
Due to the CHSAA transfer rule, Felix was forced to sit out the Rangers' first 11 games. The team went 8-3 during that span. With Felix in the middle, Lewis-Palmer is 11-1, with its only loss coming on Oct. 27 to undefeated Doherty - the state's top-ranked 5A team - in straight sets. Outside of that match, the Rangers are 33-2 in games Felix has played.
Felix leads the team in blocks (39), kills percentage (55.9) and service percentage (95.4) and is fifth in kills (143).
“She helps defensively with her block in the front row,” said Lewis-Palmer volleyball coach Susan Odenbaugh. “We've probably doubled the number of blocks we've had per match since she's come in. When you have a strong block that makes people in the back row be able to play defense better. Our success is going to depend on how well we play defense.”
Lewis-Palmer opens regional play this week. While Felix and crew are taking things one game at a time, the prospect of a state title looms large.
“Of course, the goal now is to get the gold ball,” Felix said. “The gold ball is always in the back of my mind.”