Rachel Winters has tried everything. As a kid, she was involved in soccer, tennis, basketball, swimming, diving, and more, but when Rachel began playing volleyball at the age of 12, she found all other sports paled in comparison. Rachel’s mother, Stacie, remembers, “She took to it like a duck to water.”
Rachel began playing in Texas but reports she is glad to be playing in St. George where the high school teams have a more competitive spirit. Rachel thrives in this environment because when she plays, she plays to win.
“She is not recreational at all,” Stacie says. “She’d rather sit on the bench and watch the team win and be part of the success than be the best player on a lower quality team. She is very competitive. She’s all about the win.”
While the win is Rachel’s ultimate goal, her teammates are one of the main reasons she loves volleyball. With the rigorous practice schedule and competition schedule, the girls spend a lot of time together. “That’s what I love about high school [volleyball] that we are always around each other,” she says. “We’re really bonded and that helps us with unity and playing better because we are so united as a team.”
Rachel not only enjoys her teammates but also has a gratitude and respect for her coaches. When Rachel’s family moved to Southern Utah, she started working with Daniel McKeehan in Hurricane. When the deal on the house her family wanted to purchase fell through, the Winters bought a home in St. George, and Rachel came under the tutelage of Jill Swaney of Desert Hills High School. She has also benefited from the coaching skills of Alaina Parker on the Utah Select club team.
Often these coaches do more than just teach volleyball skills. Rachel says of Jill Swaney, “She gives a lot of life lessons; she not just all about volleyball. She’s like a life mentor too, not just a coach.”
Stacie is grateful for the life skills that Rachel has gained from her coaches as well as her experiences traveling with her teams. “She’s been on the road since she was 12 with volleyball,” she says. “It’s taught her at a very young age to go to college campuses, to be away from home. It’s matured her a lot. Sports has brought so much to her life; it’s incredible.”
Rachel’s coaches have pushed her to become a better player, but so has the fact that, because she began kindergarten at age four, Rachel is younger than most of her teammates. Additionally, Rachel wasn’t always able to find teams for her age bracket. Stacie remembers, “Because there weren’t club teams for her age group, she always had to play up. She didn’t get a lot of play time, but she got training, and that’s been a benefit for her to play at a little bit more challenging level. It’s always kind of pushed her, and that’s what she likes to do.”
And Rachel does indeed excel when she is challenged. One summer, when her team was playing Morgan High School, Rachel was tapped to play outside of her regular position.
Stacie remembers, “That was the year that Jill was panicking because she didn’t have a middle. I remember coach saying, ‘I don’t have a middle! I don’t have a middle! What am I going to do? I don’t have middle!’.” Then Jill looked at Rachel and said, “Your it!”
“She just threw me in,” Rachel remembers. “I ended up being a vital player to that team.”
Rachel ended up setting a new record for the most blocks in a match, becoming the state 3A number one blocker.
At the time of the interview, Rachel was taking a break from volleyball. “She starts her first camp the first of June, so we wanted her to have a couple months off because it is so hard on her body,” says Stacie, noting that playing year round can add wear and tear to the body. Rachel needed to rest an overworked shoulder that developed tendentious and rest a body that not only has been working hard, but also grew four inches since her freshman year.
Rachel adds, “As it has become even more competitive, I have realized that I need to take time off for my body so that I can come back next season and better prepare myself for the season.” In the meantime, Rachel cross trains to keep strong and limber. Her work outs include Yoga to help her stay injury free, weight training to stay strong, and cardio to stay fit.
Rachel is as gifted in academics as she is in volleyball maintaining a GPA of 3.85. “It’s definitely a challenge to balance academics and being a student athlete,” she says, “but it’s rewarding. It’s important to have your academics to a higher standard for colleges to look at you.”
“Colleges are holding them to a higher standard of excellence,” adds Stacie, “so they’ve always had that push.” Rachel knows this because of an experience where a friend was being recruited but didn’t have the grade point that she needed.”
While Rachel plans to play volleyball at the college level after she graduates next year, where has not been decided. She is considering several Utah schools, but Stacie teases Rachel that she, “has palm trees waiving in her head,” because she would love to attend a university near a beach.
Right now, however, Rachel is focused on one goal: a state championship ring. She believes this is the year for Desert Hills to bring it home and will do all she can to help her team attain it. After all, she’s all about the win. • HSSI