Three years ago before Jackson’s 6-foot-1 junior outside hitter Katy St. John was playing high school volleyball, she watched her cousin Hannah Shinn become the Indians single-season and all-time leader in kills.
Fast forward to today and St. John has already surpassed Shinn as the Jackson volleyball program’s all-time leader in kills. In fact, Katy even broke Hannah’s single-season kills record as a freshman and then beat her own mark last fall.
“She was a big ole hitter, and I was like, ‘I want to be like Hannah,’” St. John said. “Our family was always kind of like, ‘Oh, she’s going to get up there.’ We made it a little competition. Breaking the kill’s record is huge to me personally.
“I literally couldn’t have done it without everybody else, but I think it was huge to me because I was younger. I was like, ‘Wow, I can do this.’ I finally got a whole bunch of confidence in myself that I can break a record and do what my cousin did. I can be this person that younger girls can see that she did that.”
In all, St. John has recorded 755 kills and should surpass 1,000 for her career this season barring any setbacks. Katy produced a program single-season and career-high kill total of 401 as a sophomore, which ranked eighth out of all players in Class 5.
St. John broke the record originally her freshman year as she finished with 354 kills, and she credits this type of season to the faith Jackson head coach Dave Mirly had in her. “He knew what I could do, and he always encouraged me to keep pushing to get better,” Katy said.
Along with breaking the all-time kills record, St. John finished in the top 10 of Class 5 for hitting percentage for the second year in a row with a mark of .349 after recording a .401 hitting percentage in 2021.
Katy’s success on the court certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed as she was named the SEMO Conference Hitter of the Year last fall. St. John is, of course, a two-time all-conference selection and has also been named to the Class 5 District 1 All-District First Team back-to-back as well as Academic All-State.
Unsurprisingly, St. John has received a Division-I offer from local university Southeast Missouri State, where one of her current teammates senior libero Holland Guilliams has already verbally committed to play college volleyball.
While a player like St. John has the talent to make momentum-switching kill after kill for Jackson or her club team Pursuit, Katy will be the first one to tell you that she couldn’t record any of them without her teammates.
St. John said she’s progressed into the volleyball player she is today because of how much she and her teammates push each other in practice. Katy also noted that the older players she’s been around have certainly influenced her to become better.
“Coming in when I was a freshman, I had great upperclassmen that helped me push myself to be better,” Katy said. “Jackson volleyball has always been amazing, and these seniors now have pushed me to be the best I can be. I want to be like them, so they just push me to be better and better each year.”
Nadia Wasilewski is another Jackson senior like Guilliams who will also be taking her talents to the D-I level as she’s verbally committed to play at Wichita State. Two other members of this year’s senior class have announced their verbal commitment as well in Ella Domian (D-II Maryville) and Grace Newell (John A. Logan Community College).
St. John and Wasilewski actually play the same outside hitting position, while Domian fills the right-side hitting role. Making up middle hitter for the Indians is a combination of two other seniors in Sydnie Floyd and Christa Vandeven. However, players will certainly line up where they’re needed for any particular match.
“This group of seniors is amazing, and we’re all so happy to be out there,” St. John said. “We have so much versatility because you can put Nadia anywhere on the court, and she’ll do amazing. We can all do so much, and we can move our lineup around to whatever Coach Mirly wants and we’re still going to excel.”
Together over the past two years, St. John and these players have led the Indians to win back-to-back district and conference tournament championships along with having a combined record of 61-11-7 overall.
Jackson has also reached the state quarterfinals each of these last two seasons, but its fallen each to the eventual Class 5 State Champion in Cor Jesu (2021 state champions) and Lafayette Wildwood (2022).
St. John’s career began all the way back in third grade when she was playing for SMASH, but she didn’t get serious about the sport in her own mind until she joined Pursuit when she was 12-years-old. The past two seasons of club, Katy played up a grade level with players like Guilliams and Domian, where they’ve competed in national tournaments.
“In club, you play all the time and with the same girls all the time, and I feel like it’s another season. Club also pushes me — everything makes me better. These girls are amazing to play with and the level of volleyball is insane.”
Even though one couldn’t tell if they watched a power hitter like St. John play today, she said that she used to not be “too hot.” Katy said the weight room has certainly helped with the power behind her spikes, but she also credited her own mentality.
“I really wanted it. Like, I really wanted it,” St. John said. “These girls and my coaches like Maile Gannon and Coach Mirly all pushed me. It’s the drive to want to be the best, so I would go to private lessons and do extra reps all the time.”
Outside of her abilities as a hitter, St. John said that she’s drastically improved her ability to play in the back row on defense. Katy actually finished eighth on Jackson in digs (62) despite primarily playing in the front row.
“I used to be so bad at defense — I would not hit the ground ever,” she laughed. “It’s obviously better, like, me and Nadia have both improved on the defensive end. We’re tall, so it’s kind of harder.”
St. John and Wasilewski have tabbed themselves as The Twin Towers for Jackson and rightfully so as Nadia also stands at 6-1 like Katy. These two future D-I hitters will only continue to have more kill attempts this fall after combining for nearly 45% of Jackson’s attack attempts last season.
“Knowing that my team has so much faith in me to get the point is huge,” St. John said. “That’s what also gets me going because my team really believes in me to get a kill — I’m going to do it for them.
“It’s a team sport, so you’re not just doing it for yourself. If our setter is passing to Ella constantly that’s because Ella is doing amazing. It’s all just a team effort, and we do a great job of distributing the sets and hitting the ball.”
Aside from the talent she has, St. John loves the sport of volleyball because she can be herself, which happens to include being loud. Katy said this year’s senior class and team as a whole is filled with loud people.
“We all love to be here, and we all love the sport and love each other so much,” St. John said. “We all work so well together, and I’m going to be so sad when these seniors graduate. The whole Jackson volleyball program is so amazing — we’re so loud and energetic. At practice, Coach Mirly never hesitates to tell us to talk, and I give the props to him for us being so loud.”