NEW PALESTINE — Growing up, New Palestine’s Allison Dennemann was always the admirer.

Ever since she was 8 years old, Dennemann found inspiration from those who played before her. She idolized players like Purdue’s Azariah Stahl, her mom, Kristen, and her older sister, Kristina, a former standout in the mid-2000s at Rice University in Texas.

Never once, though, did Dennemann ever envision being on the other end of admiration — until this season.

Approached by a wide-eyed Doe Creek Middle School student-athlete one day after a match, the Dragons senior caught a glimpse of herself as the star-struck youngster, who mustered the courage to, in turn, see a bit of herself in her hero, made it a point to speak with Dennemann.

“Honestly, I’ve always had certain players that I looked up to, so it was pretty cool that it’s kind of flipped,” Dennemann recalled from that day. “She came up to me and told me she wanted to wear No. 4 because I was No. 4. It made my day. People are looking up to me now.”

Dennemann won’t soon forget that moment nor will the numerous sets of youthful eyes from the stands that intently watched her every move the past four years.

New Palestine head coach Kelli Whitaker jokes that some in the community call Dennemann the Michael Jordan of Dragons volleyball for her Class 4A All-State outside hitter’s leaping ability, standing at a mere 5-foot-9.

In truth, her work ethic is a more synonymous character trait, one that powered her to setting the program’s career, single-season and single-match records for kills.

“Not only did she break them, she annihilated them,” Whitaker remarked on Dennemann’s prolific career. “To be a four-year starter and to be the best player your freshman year, that’s really super rare. She’s been one of the best players in the state since she was 14 years old.”

This fall, Dennemann ended her high school run just how it began — the best — earning Hancock County Volleyball Player of the Year honors with a unanimous vote by the area coaches and the Daily Reporter.

But nothing came easy for the University of the Pacific signee. Her path required commitment and sacrifice. More importantly, she had to stay hungry and humble, an instinctive gear for the 2017 IHSVCA South All-Star.

“It’s always nice to be recognized for your achievement and your play, but in the end it’s just about getting better,” Dennemann said.

Family legacy

“I grew up mainly watching my sister (Kristina), and that’s why I’m No. 4 because she was No. 4 in college,” Dennemann said. “I always kind of looked up to her because she was an amazing player.”

Kristina Dennemann, who is 12 years older than Allison, played volleyball at Hamilton Heights High School before moving on to compete at Rice as an outside hitter.

A three-time MVP in high school, Kristina had a profound impact on Allison as she started basic volleyball training while her sister was at the Division I level.

Dennemann’s mother, Kristen, who grew up in Illinois, continued her collegiate volleyball career at Butler, but her family’s legacy branches out further with her brother, David, as well.

A Hamilton Heights graduate, David, 28, played baseball at Butler and later Tiffin University in Ohio. Her father, Brett, a multisport athlete at New Palestine, played tennis at the University of Indianapolis.

“That’s always been a goal of mine. Ever since I started playing, I wanted to be an outside hitter for a Division I college,” Allison Dennemann admitted. “I’ve never let that go. It’s only grown as I’ve gotten older, and it’s exciting that it’s finally going to happen.”

Heading out West

Dennemann first began pursing her collegiate future as a sophomore, visiting several universities during the recruiting process, including Minnesota, Indiana, Louisville, Missouri, among others.

Prior to her junior season, she made her choice, verbally committing to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. on April 26, 2016.

“I love the location. It’s going to be such a neat experience for me to get out of Indiana and just go into a completely different way of life,” Dennemann said. “I’ve always kind of thought of myself as a California girl, but I never thought I would actually be living out there. I’m stoked.”

The opportunity to play beach volleyball for the Tigers was also appealing, Dennemann admitted.

“The fact that I can play both indoor and beach is something that most other colleges can’t offer,” she said. “That made it very unique. I’m excited about that, to do something different.”

No down time

If Dennemann has a pet peeve, it’s running idle. There’s nothing that irritates her more.

When she’s not playing volleyball, she’s finding something to do, whether reading, catching a concert or taking a nature hike.

“Honestly, I took a week or two break between high school and club, but after a week, I’m ready to get back. I can’t sit still that long,” Dennemann said. “I get bored. I don’t like breaks.”

After the high school season, Dennemann turns her attention to club. The past five years, she’s been with Circle City Volleyball in Plainfield. Before that, she was part of Team Indiana Volleyball Inc. in Indianapolis. Her first competition club was Munciana Volleyball in Yorktown.

In between, she trains at St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis.

A 4.0 GPA student, Dennemann hits the books with the same ferocity, ranking in the top 10 in her class, while active in the school’s SCALE program and as part of the Dragon Leadership Team.

“She’s put in so much work. More work than you can imagine. Some people think she just walks into the gym and is an automatic all-star, but she puts hours and hours of time in. She’s always working,” Whitaker said. “That says a lot about who she is.”

Numbers tell the story

If asked about her stats, Dennemann wouldn’t have a clue. The key for her has always been balance.

Being in prime shape, puts her in position to soar, literally, and drop the hammer for a kill and a team point. Never letting the uncontrollable sway her game, always makes her a threat.

“She’s definitely calm and collected as a player. She’s not one that has high highs or low lows. She just plays an even game all the time, and I think that is why she is so good,” Whitaker said. “She’s always so consistent with her emotions as well as her play.”

That approach led to 2,184 kills in her career, a new school record, surpassing the former leader, oddly enough her coach, Whitaker.

Her 700 kills as a junior set a single-season mark as the Dragons rolled to their first regional championship and a 27-11 record in 3A.

This past season, she slammed down 572 kills while the team went 27-7 en route to back-to-back sectional titles and its first as a 4A program.

“This past year, us winning another sectional, and in 4A, we proved it wasn’t a fluke,” Dennemann said. “The proudest moment this year was losing to Mt. Vernon on our senior night, and then turning around and beating them in sectional (semifinals).”

The Dragons lost to rival Mt. Vernon 3-2 at home on Oct. 5, and then went on to sweep the Marauders 3-0 during the Greenfield-Central Sectional on Oct. 14. Dennemann logged 16 kills during the rematch, while senior cohort Mia Long had 17.

Again, it all came down to balance.

“That’s something I’ve had to teach myself. When I was younger, I would get very high and very low. It doesn’t work like that, especially for a smaller-sized player like me. I have to be steady,” Dennemann said. “I’ve learned if you stay level-headed, you can bounce back quicker any time something doesn’t go your way.”

Leaving a legacy

When asked if another Allison Dennemann could come through the Dragons program in the future, Whitaker took pause.

Possible? Sure. Probable? Maybe. One thing that’s certain, she paved the way by being a role model.

“I think girls can see themselves in her. When you look at Ally, you don’t think, ‘oh, my gosh, she’s so tall. I’ll never be like her.’ She’s has these outstanding abilities, but she’s kind of just like everybody else in a sense,” Whitaker said. “She’s approachable and you can see yourself in her.”

Regardless, Dennemann knows the future is bright for the program, one she’ll miss leaving behind.

“The coaches are amazing people, and the players are all so much fun to play with and for. The passion for the game is so incredible and inspiring. It rubs off on everyone,” Dennemann said. “It will be hard not playing for them anymore, but I know they will continue to do great things as coaches. They’ve turned this program around and made a name for it. I’ll know they’ll continue to do that.”

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Rich Torres is sports editor at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at rtorres@greenfieldreporter.com or 317-477-3227.