The rise of play in the off-season from club and travel teams has raised the bar for high school girls volleyball in Connecticut.

The competition has gotten better and more evenly distributed throughout the state, but if there’s one constant in recent years it’s that Amity remains a top team, not only in the Southern Connecticut Conference, but in the New Haven area. It continues to churn out some of the best players.

Next up: Kathleen Walsh.

The Spartans senior captain was a force on the outside in 2016 as she collected 353 kills — 4.3 per set — in a season that included an SCC championship and a run to the Class LL state semifinals.

“For the past couple years she’s been working hard to get better every game,” Amity coach Seth Davis said.

It started in sixth grade when Walsh first stepped on a volleyball court in a competitive setting with the Connecticut Juniors developmental program, but her love for the game came to fruition during tournament time of her sophomore year.

“I went in during the (SCC) semifinal game vs. Cheshire and we lost, but it was the first time I really played,” Walsh said. “It was one of the best games I ever played and it was so fun. [That’s when I knew] this is what I want to do and this what I want to do my junior and senior years.”

After playing a role during the tournaments in 2014, Walsh was ready to play varsity volleyball her junior year alongside another New Haven Register Area MVP: Micaela Cardozo (2015).

Walsh played second fiddle to Cardozo, but she learned invaluable lessons from her.

“I learned how to play volleyball,” Walsh said. “I played in my middle school years and then two full seasons of travel with her. She’s so composed on the court. If she shanks a pass, she’s able to get back up and hit. Composing and playing a great game is what she taught me.”

She also taught Walsh how to be a good captain, an honor Walsh had this past season.

“She provided that leadership for all the younger girls,” Davis said. “Helped keep their heads composed and when things got going she was able to keep them calm and composed and ready to play.”

That know-how helped this season when the Spartans didn’t quite have the big game experience as past teams, but produced similar results.

“We wanted to win SCC’s again,” Walsh said. “We really wanted to go far in the state tournament and we accomplished both of those. We meshed so well by the end of the season and tournament play. That brought the success.”

Despite leading the team in kills and being the focus of opposing defenses, Walsh is not a selfish player. In fact, she has passed along some of those lessons she learned to yet another Amity volleyball player who is bound to get some more recognition as her career continues.

Sophomore Abby Harbinson, another All-Area selection, was in the same spot this year that Walsh was a year ago playing with an MVP.

“Abby loves volleyball and Kathleen saw the passion that Abby has,” Davis said.

And that’s what Walsh has left the Amity volleyball program with a love for the game and knowing that the underclassmen she has played with are in a good position to keep the tradition alive.