MELISSA — Record-setting Melissa volleyball standout Caroline Kasson will continue her athletic and educational career at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Ala. The decorated senior outside hitter made it official, Nov. 13, at Melissa High School surrounded by a big crowd of friends, teammates, family and coaches.

A four-year varsity player who never missed a single set of play, Kasson recently wrapped her Lady Cardinals tenure as the program’s all-time kill leader - with a bevy of other honors and program-firsts to boot.

In her final home match, Oct. 25 versus Sanger, Kasson surpassed 1,800 career kills. She went on to finish with 1,857 career kills - a mark that could stand for some time as the Lady Cards’ previous career-kill record was 1,297.

Kasson played in all 525 sets of Melissa’s 172 varsity matches over the last four seasons, tying the school record for that feat, Lady Cards head volleyball coach Frank DePaolo noted. “That shows her ability and her willingness to play through a little bit of pain - or actually a lot that she wouldn’t tell me about. … She was a vital part of this program from Day 1 of 2016 until now.” Just one other Lady Cardinal, 2015 MHS grad Connar Newberry, played in every set over four years.

Kasson’s other career totals include 1,296 digs, 170 blocks, 236 service aces and 2,008 serve-receives.

As a freshman, Kasson earned All-District honors then was picked District Co-MVP the next year after leading the district-champion Lady Cards in kills, digs and aces. Her junior year, district co-champ Melissa advanced to the state tournament for the first time in school history, posting a program-best 38 wins. Kasson led that team in kills, solo blocks, hit and kill percentages, and was second in digs and aces.

To cap off that season, Kasson was named Texas’ Class 4A Player of the Year and District MVP, and also earned a spot on the Texas Girls Coaches Association’s 4A All-State team. She made TGCA’s 1A-4A All-Star team and the state All-Tournament team as well - both Melissa volleyball firsts.

More Kasson accolades are likely from the Lady Cards’ just-completed season that reached the area playoff round.

JSU, an NCAA Division I FCS school located in northeast Alabama, competes in the Ohio Valley Conference. Kasson received a full four-year athletic scholarship to play for the Gamecocks, who just claimed the OVC regular-season title this month. Head coach Todd Garvey is in his second season at JSU.

“It’s just overwhelming,” Kasson said. “Getting up this morning, it was kind of a punching-the-shoulder thing, waking up and realizing that I’m signing today with Jacksonville State. It’s so cool for all my friends and my volleyball team to be here to support me - even some parents that I’ve known since childhood.

“The [JSU] campus is very open and wide. And the state of Alabama is beautiful. The bond with the teammates is just incredible – and the bond between the team and the coach. They act like a complete family. They’re such a joy to be around.”

Kasson said she’s considering majoring in kinesiology.

Asked about playing varsity ball as a Lady Cards freshman, Kasson said, “It was scary, definitely, because I wanted to make a good impression. But it ended up being good. … I would just be ready to be on the court whenever.”

Kasson named “bonding with teammates, on and off the court, and with coaches” among her top MHS career highlights. “It’s been such a great four years. It’s been highpoints every single year.” She added that being on the state-tournament stage last year in Garland was “very nerve-wracking, but still a lot of fun.”

Recalling Kasson’s freshman year, DePaolo said, “I saw in her someone who was driven and had the capability to be pretty good someday. Little did I know that ‘someday’ would be her sophomore year. Her kills almost doubled, her digs more than doubled and the errors were a lot fewer and far between.

“Junior year, Caroline was as good as anyone at the position that I have ever had the privilege to coach. Her kills went up 50 percent, her aces increased, her digs went up 20 percent. … Senior year was another banner year for Caroline stats-wise. Stats are only one side of being a leader. What truly made Caroline a leader for four-straight years … is how her teammates loved her, how they followed her and knew that she would be there for them.”

DePaolo noted that when Kasson first came aboard he didn’t know he was also getting a family of team support. Kasson’s mom, Cindy Kasson, assisted with anything requiring organization and also served as a parents’ liaison. Dad Dave Kasson lent a hand with stats and technology.

Of course, both were there for their daughter’s big day.

“I’m just so excited for her,” Cindy Kasson said. “She’s worked really hard. She’s missed out on a lot of things that high school and junior high girls do because she’s had to be busy with volleyball. But it’s all paid off. … She’s going to love where she’s going to school.

“The head coach and assistant coach [at JSU] were so accommodating. And they were super-excited to have Caroline, to have us. They were also very organized. They had an entire itinerary for the day. We knew what we were getting into. … She was able to see the academic side as well as the athletic side.”

Besides seeing Caroline compete in the state tourney, Cindy Kasson said her top memories include watching her take the court as a varsity freshman. “She was playing against girls who were three years older. Being prepared for that and being able to handle that was a big deal. … She’s really confident in her ability, but she’s pretty humble about it.”

Said Dave Kasson, “I guess it’s a big weight lifted, because you want to know that she’s doing what she likes to do and she’s enjoying herself. … The school is great, the environment is beautiful there and she loves it. It is a proud day. We did not forecast or plan for her to go into college this way. We saved money for her to go to college. But this is awesome. I’m very proud of her.”

Caroline Kasson’s grandmother, Carol Goodman, was also on hand for the signing. Caroline’s sister, 2018 MHS grad Nicole Kasson, is away, studying at the University of Oregon.