Setting her future

Kerri Master played volleyball as a student at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, but didn’t much care for it.

When she started St. Maria Goretti High, she planned to stay involved with just one sport — basketball.

But something happened when, just out of curiosity, Master checked out the Goretti volleyball team. She finally became a fan of the sport.

"There is something about volleyball. I can’t figure it out, I just love it," said Master, of the 2600 block of Marshall Street.

Now a senior, the athlete wants to continue playing in college. The All-Catholic player is aggressively pursuing her options by writing to college coaches. Master is interested in Division III schools like West Chester and Widener.

Her coach, Jim Capelli, who moved up from junior-varsity coach this season, is helping Master’s cause by sending game tapes to various colleges. The coach has little doubt that the 17-year-old can compete on the next level.

"I think she has a good shot to play in college," Cappelli said. "She is a very determined and strong-willed young lady."

Master has stayed motivated despite Goretti’s lackluster performance in the Catholic League. The Lambs have struggled for years, especially against powerhouse teams like Archbishop Carroll and Cardinal O’Hara. In recent seasons, Goretti was losing games by scores as lopsided as 30-3.

The Delaware County squads have the advantage of club teams to provide offseason training. The suburban teams also have larger pools of athletes to draw from. For example, 90 players came out for the O’Hara team this year, as compared to 32 at Goretti.

The Lambs try to even the field somewhat by beginning workouts in August, a full month before the Catholic League season starts. Cappelli holds tryouts in the middle of August.

Master took on a personal challenge this summer by playing beach volleyball with the guys in Wildwood, N.J.

"At first, they didn’t think I could play, but I showed them," she said.

Master seems to be able to handle every activity with ease, from homework to working after school.

She works in plenty of volleyball between serving up snacks at the Veterans Stadium concession stands and volunteering with the Goretti Peace Ambassador Corps.

The Peace Ambassadors visit assisted-living homes, and provide clothing and food to the homeless during the holiday season, Master said.

Now the student-athlete is on another goodwill mission. She wants to build up volleyball in the South Philadelphia community. Master and her friends are trying to get a volleyball program started at 30th and Tasker streets.

Of course, the player also would like to see Goretti earn some Catholic League respect. She and the team’s other six seniors may be waiting a bit longer for that goal. On Friday, Hallahan defeated Goretti 2-0 to bring the Lambs’ league record to 0-4. Goretti’s only win this season came against Cardinal Dougherty in a non-league game.

To have any shot at the playoffs, the Lambs would have to top last year’s four-win mark. Two of those wins came against West Catholic, who has since dropped out of the league.

The Lambs are making some progress against playoff regulars Cardinal O’Hara, Archbishop Carroll and Archbishop Prendergast. In this month’s game against O’Hara, the local squad scored 16 points in one game, and stayed competitive with Carroll and Prendie by scoring 13 points in matches against those teams.

"We have unbelievable potential on this team," Master said. "We just have to keep working hard."

Apparently, Master was listening intently as a freshman when then-coach Joan Braid told the players that "can’t" wasn’t in the Goretti vocabulary. If one of the players said she couldn’t bump or set the ball, the player had to do five push-ups.

Now Master still has the winning philosophy, if not the scores to show for it.

"We lose as a team and we win as a team," she said.

Goretti holds post-game meetings each week to discuss strengths and weaknesses. Once at practice, Capelli relies on Master to lead the way.

"Kerri is like an inspiration, especially to a lot of the younger players," he said.

Capelli said the team has other aces, like seniors Shannon Matise and Denielle D’Amore, whom he described as outstanding setters.

For her part, Master wants to help the Lambs pull off an upset or two before moving on to college.

The player, who plans to major in secondary education, still believes anything is possible when it comes to volleyball. She even dreams of playing in the United States Pro Volleyball League, which completed its first season earlier this year. Philadelphia is one of five franchises entering the league for the 2003 season.

"It’s a dream, but hopefully it’ll become a reality," Master said.