Video Spotlight - Kelci French

LANGLEY, British Columbia - When Kelci French went home for Christmas just over a month ago, her great-grandmother on her mother’s side estimated she had about 150 grand-children.

French’s mother, Leslie, has nine siblings and her father, Richard, who passed away in 2006, had eight siblings.

French herself, has five siblings and, as of a couple of years ago, three step-siblings.

So to say family gatherings are a bit of a big occasion would be to say the Jackson’s had adequate vocal cords.

And for French, a people lover and person people love, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I really like to connect with people,” said French. “I love people and love knowing people and being close to people.”

So when the Okotoks, Alta. product, who grew up in Richmond, B.C. until she was 15 years old, decided to come back to university volleyball after two years at Canada’s National Training Centre, the family-focused setter/left side immediately targeted Trinity Western.

Her older sister of five years, Randi, had played for the Spartans women’s basketball team from 2005 to 2007 and it was the family atmosphere she spoke of that convinced the younger French of Trinity Western’s merits.

In April of 2006, French’s father died while Randi was attending Trinity Western. Randi would frequently phone home from Trinity Western to Okotoks and talk with Kelci. On one particular phone call Randi told a story to Kelci that stuck.

“She called me and was like, ‘I just had this awesome experience and I wanted to tell you,’” French recalled. “She was in a general office area [at Trinity Western] and she started crying and was just having a really tough time. The lady at the desk didn’t even know who she was and didn’t know her name but she came and sat with her and prayed with her. She held her hand and just let her cry. She [Randi] just thought it was so cool and that’s what I appreciate about this school. The teachers and the people here actually care about you as a person.”

“I really appreciated that about the school and how the school had taken care of her. Her profs really invested in her. Hearing things like that really made me want to be part of this culture and this school.”

And, now that she’s here, four years after graduating from Foothills Composite High School in Okotoks, she says, “It’s definitely lived up to its standards.”

Out of high school, French had gone to the University of Alberta for her first year of CIS volleyball. Although she was recruited to be a setter, it didn’t take long for her to get on the court as a starting left side. By the end of her first year with the Pandas, the 2008 national junior team member was averaging 2.86 kills per set, 0.43 service aces per set and was named the CIS Rookie of the Year.

However, despite the success she garnered in her first year at Alberta, she decided leave the university game after her first season to attend the National Training Centre in Winnipeg, Man. where, for two years, she worked out as a setter day in and day out with a small group of top-flight Canadian athletes.

But for French, after two years, the constant practicing without competition began to wane and she had a hankering to get back on a court where she would be back in a game environment each week. Her options were going abroad or going back to school.

Being the people person and family-centred person that she is, the choice was a no-brainer.

And her decision to come to Trinity Western wasn’t much harder.

“This was where I wanted to come,” said French who was recruited as an outside hitter rather than a setter, at least for her first year. “The initial plan for me was to go back to school and get game play as a setter. For some reason I just didn’t really care. I just wanted to be at Trinity. And if that means I didn’t set for my first year than that’s what it means. And if I get to play with [second-year setter] Lauren Monks for the rest of my three years than that’s super fun too.”

All she had to do was get her academics in order in time for the fall semester. And that she did.

“School has always been hard for me,” French said. “School was the reason I didn’t go back after my first year. Now it had become important for me and I pushed through. I handed in my last assignment [of my summer course] the day before classes started [this fall].”

While it took French a few months to find her groove on the Spartans court, these days her numbers are amongst the best on her team in a variety of categories. She’s second on her team with 0.39 aces per set (11th in CW), second in digs with 2.46 per set (20th in CW) third in blocks with 0.80 per set (22nd in CW), fourth in kills with 1.42 per set and is also averaging 2.00 assists per set, which is third on the team.

“It’s a bit like riding a bike but you still need to get used to it,” said French on reacquainting herself with hitting.

And of late, she’s especially been a dynamo from the serving line, a control freak on reception and, when called upon, a valuable change of pace at the setting position.

“She brings a lot of stability and a lot of leadership,” said Spartans coach Ryan Hofer. “Out there on the floor she digs the ball well, she blocks well and she serves well. She’s a consistent hitter. She brings a lot of ball control to the floor. She brings a lot of options for us. I believe [having her set occasionally] creates a dynamic for our offence that keeps the opposition guessing.”

And it’s no wonder she’s versatile. As a youngster, she just had to do anything to survive.

Her first volleyball experience came when she was nine years old. It involved Randy, remember five years older, bringing Kelci out to the front yard and explaining to her how to dig a ball so she could simply employ the perks of being an older sibling, and practice her hitting on a rather unsuspecting target.

“I was just like standing there getting balls drilled at me,” French said.

While Kelci doesn’t recall how well she did, she must have held her own because it wasn’t long after that she really started to fall in love with the sport of volleyball.  When she was in Grade 5, she was allowed to attend a volleyball camp – run by Eric Ens, who is now the director of the Christian youth organization YFC/Youth Unlimited and is a volleyball coach at Cambie Secondary in Richmond – for kids in Grade 7.

“[Eric] was a coach who really believed in me and triggered my love for volleyball and my belief in myself,” French said.

Then in her early days of high school, playing at Cambie, she continued to play above her age group and when she moved to Okotoks in 2005 after her Grade 9 year, that trend continued. Playing club volleyball with the Calgary Dinos Volleyball Club, first with the 17U team and then two years with the 18U team, she helped her team to a provincial championship in all three of her years with the club.

And from there her volleyball career has continued to be a sweet symphony. And for that matter, so has her off-court aspirations.

Music has always, and very much continues to be, a big part of her life.

At Trinity Western, she’s taking a music major with a focus on voice. She’s been taking voice lessons since she was young, along with piano lessons and while she doesn’t exactly aspire to be on an American Idol type of show, it turns out she’s a pretty darn good singer and pianist.

Once she’s finished with her volleyball career, she plans to teach piano and singing lessons and, with her psychology major, also work with students with disabilities, helping them “relate to music and deal with emotions through music.”

If she hadn’t already said it, her actions and goals speak just as loud to her love for people.

And while will no doubt work with people through her music, at the end of the day French is all about family.

“I really want to be a mom and have a family,” said French who is engaged but doesn’t have a wedding date quite yet. “That’s something I was born to do.”

And if you watch even one volleyball practice or game you can see motherhood is something she’ll be better than pretty darn good at.

“She’s motivating. She’s encouraging. She brings leadership to the floor,” said Hofer about her personality on the volleyball court but could very well have been discussing her personality in life. “It’s a lot of fun to play with her and she just makes people around her play better. With that, teammates will go through the wall for her.”

While her volleyball career is far from over – she has three more years left at Trinity Western and has aspirations of playing in the 2016 Olympics – there’s no doubting, being at Trinity Western has her set on the right path towards her goals.

If she didn’t have enough siblings already, upon arriving at Trinity Western she garnered 14 more sisters.

She’s found another big, happy family. And she couldn’t be more joyful.

Last Updated: 2012-02-16
Author: Mark Janzen