by C. Jemal Horton

Even when you’re in high school, being The Popular Kid can have its drawbacks. There’s almost always pressure to be “on,” and there usually are precious few moments when you can be in a public setting and have the down time most teenagers can enjoy.

Some celebrated young people, including top athletes, either develop a superiority complex or lash out when they can’t have time to themselves.

But Huntersville resident Kelsey Newman, who most people considered the top volleyball player to grace Mecklenburg County courts this season, is a different kind of high school celebrity.

For one thing, the Charlotte Catholic High School senior has trouble seeing herself as a volleyball star, even though she received nearly a dozen college scholarship offers to play the sport before finally settling on George Washington University. But when she’s reminded of her many accomplishments – a three-time conference player of the year, success on the state, regional and national levels – she reluctantly accepts her fate: This past season, she was the volleyball celebrity in this area.

That’s one of the major reasons Newman was honored as Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2010 Mecklenburg County Volleyball Player of the Year.

Newman’s also gregarious and approachable. And she said she feels a responsibility to show people, particularly younger volleyball players, that it’s important to appreciate every aspect of being an athletic standout.

“It’s fun!” Newman said of being a well-known volleyball player. “It’s so neat when you walk into a gym and people look at you and say, ‘Oh, you’re Kelsey! I read about you in the newspaper’ or ‘I’ve heard a lot about you.’ It’s unbelievable. You don’t want it to end.

“People need to know there’s more behind the volleyball girl that gets in the paper all the time. There’s a lot of hard work, and I’ve been blessed with awesome parents, teammates and coaches. There’s no way I could do anything without any of those people, and I want to be the best person I can. You do have to take it seriously. It’s tough watching girls who have so much athletic ability, and they don’t take advantage of it. I’m just so grateful for everything that’s happened to me.”

Newman didn’t live off her lofty reputation; she backed it up with outstanding play this season. While helping the Cougars to the Class 3A state quarterfinals and the second-highest win total in school history (28), she led the team in kills (476), digs (427), aces (109) and blocks (66) from her middle-hitter position.

And there’s a strong chance she led the team in supportive comments.

“It was just exciting being with my teammates this season,” Newman said. “I worked hard to be an example – not so much with playing the game but with being a good teammate.

“I wish we could’ve gone farther (in the state playoffs), but it was about being close with my teammates and appreciating everything I have more than anything.”