Rogerson pursuing her volleyball dream|Former Williamston star plays in AVP qualifier

Published 9:47 pm Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sports Editor

The sandy beaches of Malibu are a far cry from the friendly confines of the Williamston High School gymnasium.
It’s that gym, soon to be the Riverside High School gymnasium, where Rogerson really developed her love for volleyball. The passion still runs so deeply that Rogerson decided to put away the slacks, suits and dresses that she wore as a Technology Scout for RTI International for something a bit more casual.
Rogerson now wears spandex, tank tops and bikinis to what she’s hoping will be a new job — life as a pro beach volleyball player. The 26-year-old, who holds an MBA in Technology, Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (TEC) and a Masters in Microbial Biotechnology from N.C. State, made the cross-country trek to California to pursue her dream of playing on the AVP (Association of Volleyball Professionals) tour.
“I've always loved volleyball,” said Rogerson, who played club volleyball at N.C. State. “But, as most do, I grew up in a home where you were expected to go to school, you were expected to get good grades and do everything in your power to set yourself up for that corporate American career. I was never brought up to dream about becoming a professional athlete.
“So even now, it is still just a dream. For me this was more about an opportunity for a new experience in a wonderful city with three fantastic friends. I was graduating school and convinced myself that if I did not go for it now, there would not be another opportunity for me.”
Rogerson, who graduated from Williamston in 2002, made the journey with friends Katrina Zawojski, Addison Musser and Larry Salefsky. The four have a mutual love of volleyball and decided to make the journey together.
“We all four met last season and were instant friends,” Rogerson said. “And I mean the strongest friends in every sense of the word. I think when you have such a strong desire to do something and have similar goals, it is easy. It is fairly remarkable.”
Rogerson partners with Zawojski on the women’s circuit, and with Musser on the co-ed circuit.
“Honestly, without my partner, Katrina, and our two co-ed partners, Addison and Larry, it would have been a tough move,” Rogerson said. “This sport is very different from other sports.
“There is no recruitment process and there is no salary for the athletes lucky enough to be offered a position on a team. It is every man or woman for themselves. Some of these girls have been playing for 10-plus years on this same beach. So breaking into that community alone is a daunting task.”
Rogerson and Zawojski played their first tournament in San Diego, a two-hour drive from their home in Manhattan. The spiker, who has overcome a couple surgeries to repair a torn ACL, admitted to having some jitters in the match, which they lost.
“We will blame that all on nerves,” she said with a smile. “Honestly, we had expectations that the girls on the west coast were somehow different from the girls on the east coast. But we found out pretty quickly that they are just human. They can be beaten just like everyone else. It just took a few games.”
The duo got their biggest taste of professional volleyball in their second match, an AVP qualifier for the Women's $100,000 AVP NIVEA Tour Huntington Beach Open on Thursday. Rogerson and Zawojski, seeded 46th, fell in two sets to the 16th seed, Morgan Flarity and Suzana Manole.
Flarity and Manole posted a 21-13 win in the first set. Rogerson and Zawojski, who have been playing together for about a year, mounted a serious threat in the second before falling 26-24.
“We had pushed all the jitters out by this point and were very excited for the match,” Rogerson said. “Neither myself or my partner had every tried to qualify for an AVP event. Because we are not one of the top 50 players in the U.S. (those who are considered professional), we had to play on a Thursday to attempt to qualify for a spot among the pro's in the main draw on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We would have had to win three matches to do so.”
Rogerson, the daughter of Peggy and Vann Rogerson, said she and her partner were thrilled to participate in the huge tournament.
“Oh, it is so exciting,” Rogerson said. “It is also overwhelming to see 60-plus teams of people just like you, players with the same dream and the same goals. I took a picture on my phone of my ticket I received from my very first qualifier because I was so excited to have one and sent it to my parents right before we played.
“Mom wrote me back, ‘What was that picture of you just sent?’ And it didn't even matter that she had no idea what it was. I knew she was proud regardless.”
After getting a taste of playing on the beaches of California, Rogerson said she and her partner know where they need to improve. The biggest obstacle is finding training partners.
Rogerson and Zawojski enjoyed an abundance of success playing in tournaments around Raleigh, even earning a third-place finish in a tournament at Hilton Head. They knew where to find a game, but are having quite a bit more difficulty doing that now.
“First and foremost, we need to work on finding solid girls to train with,” Rogerson said. “In Raleigh there are two or three beach courts in the entire city. So if you want to find a game, it’s no mystery where you need to look.
“Unfortunately, for the newcomers to the South Bay/L.A. area, there are courts two and three rows deep for miles (cities long) down the coast. Needless to say, finding girls to train with is tough. Even just seeing decent girls out playing who are willing to give two east coast blond girls a chance is like a shot in the dark.”
The two have arisen early a handful of times and coasted the coast for a game, but returned home without breaking a sweat after not finding a game.
However, after nearly three weeks of searching, the duo found their first “play date” and were able to train Tuesday.
It was just another step in helping Rogerson and Zawojski get better.
“There are so many technical parts of our game that we need to work on,” Rogerson said. “A friend of mine sent a text (message) to me a few days ago and I think what she said sums it up so well. She told me that at the level we are playing at, all the athletes are solid players. At this point it becomes more about mental toughness and focusing on making every touch the best of your career.”
Rogerson, who is also an accomplished horseback rider in dressage (a disciplined style of riding), hasn’t forgotten her roots. She still fondly recalls playing for the Tigers, where she helped guide the 2001 team to the Eastern Regional championship game, the farthest Williamston volleyball had ever gotten.
Rogerson played a big part, coming up with close to 40 kills in four tournament games. That included a triple-double of 16 points, 11 kills and 11 digs in a win over previously unbeaten Camden. The phenomenal outside hitter’s seven kills in a victory over Perquimans led the Tigers into the Eastern Regional championship game, where they fell to the Durham School of the Arts.
The Tigers finished 22-4 that year.
Rogerson also has great memories of playing for then-head coach Peggy Taylor.
“Williamston started the foundation, for sure,” said Rogerson, who earned WDN All-Area honors during her high school playing days. “Peggy Taylor will always have a special place in my heart, or should I say in my burning quads. Anyone who played for her knows what I'm talking about.
“She taught remarkable work ethic. I've actually thought about coming back one day, hopefully, to do some clinics or camps over the summer to pay back what she was able to teach me.”
Rogerson went on to play club volleyball at N.C. State, which she described as more of a “fun activity.” It’s during that time where she met Brian Kopec, an “amazing friend and coach” to Rogerson.
Rogerson’s volleyball career really took off thanks to her farther, who encouraged her to give volleyball a try during her junior high school days. She was reluctant at first, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions Rogerson has ever made.
Some 12 years later, and nearly 2,700 miles away, Rogerson now wakes up and heads to the beach in pursuit of her dream.
“It means so much to me to have the opportunity to do something like this,” Rogerson said. “It is honestly hard to take any day for granted here.
“Playing on a sandy pacific coast watching the sun set behind the mountains of Malibu is tough to beat.”