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Century's high-flying Decker dreading the end

Standout middle hitter Paige Decker has been a four-year starter for the Century volleyball team.

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Century’s Paige Decker (32) returns a volley during a tournament game against Albert Lea on Sept. 4, 2021, at the National Volleyball Center in Rochester.
Post Bulletin file photo
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ROCHESTER — Paige Decker knows what her emotion will be at season’s end. Unless, of course, her Century volleyball team finishes as state champion, which she acknowledges is a long shot.

But not such a long shot that she’s ready to settle for anything else.

“Whenever we lose, my first reaction is that I’m going to be mad,” the star senior middle hitter said. “I’ll be mad no matter who we’ll have played, even if I know they’re better than us.

“Then I’ll sit there, and after a while, I’ll appreciate that we’ve had a good run. And I’ll be grateful for my time at Century, for how I’ve grown as a player and a person and seen the impact I’ve had on the younger girls.”

FIRST ROUND

No current Century player has affected this Panthers volleyball program quite like Decker the last four years.

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For one, she’s the only member of this 2022 team who’s been a varsity starter all of that time.

Then there is her talent and leadership. The 5-foot-11 high-flying, powerful, deft, driven, caring and inclusive senior stands alone in almost all of those categories, too.

She’s a special one, though you’ll never hear that from her.

“Paige is very humble and not the type of person to let you know that she is the greatest on the court,” Century junior and standout setter Megan Lund said. “She doesn’t have that cocky attitude that some players do. Plus, she is very wise, and always shows up ready to go. She lights a fire under everyone.”

Watch Decker play and what jumps out first is just that — her ability to jump. She gets way up there.

Decker admits that’s a lethal and fun skill to have. It’s one that’s allowed her to be a kills machine for years despite her less-than-towering 5-foot-11 height. Decker has destroyed the ball this season, with 368 kills.

The senior, who will play next year at Division II power University of Minnesota Duluth, has two favorite ways to offensively finish a point, both of them relying on her gravity defying leaps.

“It’s fun to hit a power shot, hitting the ball straight down,” Decker said. “That feels great. But it’s also fun to get up there and instead of doing a big swing, to do a tip right over the (opposing team’s) block (attempt).”

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As much as Decker is known for blasting and placing her shots, those actually aren’t her favorite moves on a volleyball court. Her true No. 1 act also calls on her jumping ability, but is done on the defensive side of things.

It’s those deflating (for the other team) blocks of hers, Decker rising up to send back the opponent's kill attempts. She has 59 total blocks this season and has relished every one of them.

“That is my favorite play,” said Decker, who has also managed an impressive 116 digs despite being a middle hitter.. “There is no better feeling than getting a solo block, to stuff a shot. To still be in the air as the ball hits the ground, it just makes you feel so powerful.”

To elongate her season, Decker is going to need all of her powers to be in full force starting with the opening round of a Section 1AAAA playoffs that is loaded with elite teams. Those start on Wednesday, with No. 5 seed Century (26-4) traveling to take on No. 4 Mayo (22-5).

Both teams have among their best teams ever. They split during the regular season, Century winning the first 3-2 in a marathon, Mayo the second 2-0 in a non-conference tournament.

Century coach Nichelle Guillaume loves that she’ll have Decker on her side. It’s something she’s coveted the last four years, the star going down as among the best players and leaders she’s coached.

“Paige is an all-around team player,” Guillaume said. “She is willing to do whatever it takes for the team to be successful. She’s always praising her teammates in order to bring them up. And she encourages them by setting them up (for shots). She wants everyone involved out there. That really helps our team chemistry.”

The day that Century’s season ends is going to be a “mad” one for Decker and a “sad” one for Guillaume.

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The high-leaping and charismatic senior has been special.

“I’m going to miss her presence overall,” Guillaume said. “I’m going to miss her, her commitment and her sense of humor. Paige has all of that. She can brighten up a day.”

Pat has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter since 1994. He covers Rochester John Marshall football, as well as a variety of other southeastern Minnesota football teams. Among my other southeastern Minnesota high school beats are girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field, high school and American Legion baseball, volleyball, University of Minnesota sports (on occasion) and the Timberwolves (on occasion). Readers can reach Pat at 507-285-7723 or pruff@postbulletin.com.
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