Katie Bates likes to be in the thick of things.
So in both of her sports, she plays positions — setter in volleyball and pitcher in softball — where she’s in the middle of the action at all times and counted on to lead.
“I like to be in control most of the time,” Bates said. “I feel like I thrive in a leadership position.”
Bates’ leadership, which Princeton coach Andy Puck said is “the best I’ve ever seen. Not just on the court but off,” along with her other intangibles like keeping an even keel and decision making helped her excel as a setter and lead the Tigresses to their best season in a decade.
“She’s a leader,” Puck said. “She has a ton of passion. She cares about her teammates. The biggest thing that separates her from freshman year to senior year was her decision making. Her decision making was incredible.
“You have to have it between the ears. You have to be able to show your teammates that you can do this. She never got too high or too low. She just stayed steady. If you can get that out of your setter, you have something.”
Bates was something special. She was the first freshman to start as a varsity setter under Puck in his 26-year career and improved each year, capped by a stellar senior season this fall.
Bates broke the school record for career assists with 2,268, set the school mark for career points with 604 and finished third in school history in career digs with 745.
This season, she had 862 assists — the second most in a season in PHS history — for an area-best average of 10.2 per set, ranked top 10 in the area in points (2.8 per set) and aces (0.5 per set) and averaged 3.5 digs per set.
Bates led the Tigresses to a 29-7-3 record — their highest win total since 2010-11 — along with the program’s first regional championship in a decade.
For all she accomplished this season, Bates is the 2021 NewsTribune Volleyball Player of the Year.
“It was one of the best individual performances I’ve ever had at Princeton High School,” Puck said. “I’m not a big numbers guy, but when you break it down and look at this stuff, it’s like ‘Holy cow.’ The things she accomplished here are pretty amazing.”
Bates’ journey as a setter began on her first club team in sixth grade.
“They just kind of threw me in there and I held onto it and really got to be good at it,” Bates said.
Just three years later, Bates made the jump from eighth grade to varsity volleyball.
“When I was a freshman, it was kind of a crazy transition between eighth grade volleyball and varsity volleyball, but just listening to my coaches, watching a lot of film and stuff like that, it got easier to know where I should set the ball and where I should put it,” Bates said. “It was definitely a learning process.”
Bates said between her sophomore and junior seasons is when things started to slow down and she felt more comfortable taking charge.
By this season, she said making decisions on the court “was just second nature.”
“She was a lot better (as a senior), but she was really, really good as a freshman and sophomore,” Puck said. “It was just a learning game, getting more court awareness and more reps, knowing the offense, knowing her ability and knowing her teammates — who can hit what out of what position.
“Her volleyball IQ has always been dynamite, but the more you play, the better you become.”
As Bates improved, so too did the team as her classmates who also played up on varsity as underclassmen developed as well, culminating in this fall’s success.
But without Bates, the Tigresses likely don’t reach the heights they did.
“She was the quarterback. She was the leader of the team,” Puck said. “She’s been with me for four years. I’m not saying we could not have had another setter step in. We had a very talented team, but we don’t have the year we had without Katie Bates. That’s all there is to it.”