Breathing Fire: Junior cements volleyball legacy at New Palestine

NEW PALESTINE — New Palestine head coach Kelli Whitaker first remembers hearing about Allison Dennemann when she was a seventh grader at Doe Creek Middle School. With her powerful swing and uncanny ability on the volleyball court, Dennemann was clearly skilled beyond her years.  

And she has been ever since.

As a freshman on New Palestine’s varsity squad two seasons, Dennemann, a junior, led the Dragons’ offense with 447 kills. She was even better as a sophomore, tallying 465 kills.

Since her first step inside the hallways of New Palestine, the 5-foot-10 Dennemann has been the team’s go-to force for instant offense.

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“I heard about her as a seventh grader and that was when I was the junior varsity coach,” Whitaker said, who is in her fourth varsity coaching season. “I never saw her play, but there was so much talk about her. She was hitting the more difficult sets then in middle school.

“As a freshman, once she came on, she was topping the charts. She puts in more work than anyone I have ever coached.”

Taking her talents out West

Thanks to that early success and skill development at a young age, Dennemann was presented the rare opportunity to commit to a college program before her junior season. On April 26, she announced that she would attend the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif.

Whitaker wasn’t exactly surprised of the early attention. Dennemann also visited the Universities of Minnesota, Missouri, Indiana, Louisville and Florida Gulf Coast, to name a few, before deciding to accept her first offer from the Tigers.

“I had an idea of what I liked and didn’t like in a school,” Dennemann said. “(The Pacific) has amazing academics, coaches and a beautiful campus. It’s awesome.”

Playing in the West Coast Conference played a big factor in her decision, she said, as did its location, which is just east of San Francisco.

She will also get a chance to do something less prevalent in Indiana — beach volleyball. The Pacific recruited Dennemann specifically for her service on both the indoor and outdoor teams. Beach volleyball, like in the Olympics, allows only two players on the playing surface rather than six.

“It’s so cool, I can’t wait,” Dennemann said, who made time to watch the sport while it was being played in Rio.

Hard Work Pays Off

Fortunately for New Palestine, Dennemann’s success has translated into the team’s as well.

Her freshman season, New Palestine finished 14-9 and 0-7 in the Hoosier Heritage Conference. The Dragons were much more consistent in 2015, Dennemann’s sophomore year, as they finished 25-10 and 3-4 in a well-respected conference.

Dennemann was voted to the 2014 Frosh 59 team her first year of high school. She was chosen from every player in her class around the nation. In 2015, she made the Soph 79 team and was named all-state.

This year, Dennemann is already breathing fire.

She has 47 kills in just two matches. In a 3-2 loss to Guerin Catholic, the hard-hitting junior totaled 30 kills and 22 digs. That versatility, which will be key at her position — outside hitter — in college was part of the reason why the Pacific was so prominent in its recruiting process with Dennemann, Whitaker said.

Senior setter Kara Morris, who tallied 835 assists last season for the Dragons, has played countless sets with Dennemann in her career. She said Dennemann is always her first option offensively and sets her with 100 percent confidence.

“I feel like every time I set the ball she will put it down,” Morris said, who has 82 assists this season for New Palestine (1-1). “She jumps so high and her arm swing (speed) is so amazing.

“She is just a very dominant player.”

Surrounded By Talent

According to Whitaker, Dennemann is just the third volleyball player at New Palestine to commit to a Division I program.

One is former Indiana University Hoosier Gabrielle Allison, who graduated in 2004. The other? Coach Whitaker. She played at Indiana State as an outside hitter after graduating from New Palestine in 2006.

“Coach Whitaker is a great motivator and it’s kind of cool being under her wing,” Dennemann said. “(She) has helped me be aggressive and become a team leader.”

Not only is Dennemann coached by a former Division I player, she grew up with two in her own house.

Dennemann’s older sister, Kristina, who graduated from Hamilton Heights, attended Rice University. Her mom, Kristen, played at Butler University.

“My family brought it on me, but I really fell in love with it myself,” Dennemann said. “My sister has taught me a lot over the years. She was the same size as me, and I learned a lot from just watching film of her.

What makes her so unique, though, in comparison to those she’s had the pleasure of learning from?

“She can do it all,” Whitaker explained. “She can hit all the tips and rolls and can hit it off the block. Her defense and passing is awesome, too, which is why she never has to come out.”

In addition to her booming spikes, Dennemann finished with 299 digs, 31 blocks and 43 aces last season. For her career, before the start of this season, she amassed 912 kills, 74 blocks, 106 aces and 554 digs.

Behind the Scenes

Volleyball season never ends for Dennemann.

In addition to playing for the Circle City Volleyball Club, Dennemann spends time burst training with Rob Blackwell from St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis. During the season, she will go twice a week. When it’s over, she will go three times per week.

At each session, Dennemann works on agility ladders, for example, and is put through extensive drills focused on improving overall leg strength and quickness. Attending since her eighth grade year, Dennemann now has a 35-inch vertical, she said.

“We do a lot of resistance training and work on my reaction time,” Dennemann said.

In club play this summer, her Circle City team finished 39th overall at the AAU Volleyball Nationals in Florida at the end of July.

“We played very well at the end,” Dennemann said.

She also hits the books hard. Dennemann is ranked sixth in her class of approximately 270 students and sports a 4.013 GPA.

Off the court, Dennemann, who said she plans to study a subject “science related” in college, is active on the school’s SCALE program, which encourages athletes to give back to the community.

In addition, she helps kids with disabilities around the county participate in sports, which is a part of a group called Fuse. It lasts from September to October.

“It’s cool and a different experience,” she said.

With nearly two full seasons yet to play on the court, Dennemann is quickly cementing her place as one of the top players to play volleyball in Hancock County.

But according to her head coach, she already has.

“Every single thing you would want in a player, she has,” Whitaker said. “She is in a class all of her own.”

Dominate Dennemann

Allison Dennemann

School: New Palestine

Sport: Volleyball

Class: Junior

Position: Outside Hitter

College: University of the Pacific

2015 Stats: 465 kills, 31 blocks, 43 aces, 299 digs

Career Stats: 912 kills, 74 blocks, 106 aces, 554 digs

Family: Kristen Dennemann (mom), Brett Dennemann (dad), Kristina Dennemann (sister)

Extras: Circle City Club Volleyball, Burst Training, Fuse, Dragon Leadership Team

Class Standing: 4.013 GPA, sixth in class

Favorite Athlete: Michael Jordan

Favorite Food: Fruit

Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or