Senior Katie Pearson waits for a serve during the Class 4A state champsionships on Nov. 10.Photo by Ed Navarro

Don’t look now, but Mackenzie Fidelak might not be the only Niwot senior headed to a highly selective California university to continue her volleyball career.

Senior Katie Pearson, who finished the season as the Cougars’ top defensive specialist, has submitted her application for admission to the exclusive California Institute of Technology (CalTech), where she hopes to study biochemistry and compete for a spot on the Beavers’ volleyball roster.

Last season, Pearson was a reliable presence in the back row, and emerged as one of Niwot’s top servers down the stretch. In the Class 4A Region 4 tournament held on Nov. 4, the right-hander blasted seven aces in matches against Canon City and Eagle Valley, and netted a total of 17 service points. She also had 23 total digs, and 24 service receptions.

Like Stanford, CalTech is one of the country’s top research and engineering universities, with extremely high admission standards and an impeccable academic reputation. Unlike Stanford, however, the small Division III school eschews athletic scholarships, so Pearson’s collegiate volleyball ambitions are at the mercy the CalTech admissions board, which last year accepted just 7.7 percent of applicants.

Fortunately, Pearson’s academic qualifications are up to the challenge. As a standout student in Niwot’s rigorous IB program, the senior maintains a 4.51 GPA and has completed (or will complete) high-level courses in physics, biology and chemistry by the time she graduates.

With the help of Niwot teacher Mrs. Broestl, the talented senior has also designed and conducted several complicated chemistry experiments, including extracting caffeine from tea leaves and identifying amino acids in different types of milk.

“After those two experiments, I realized that I actually really like working in the lab,” Pearson said. “So that’s something I definitely want to pursue in college and perhaps even after. I’m looking into medicine, but I’m not sure if I want to be a practicing physician or medical researcher.”

In her spare time, Pearson also holds leadership positions in a number of school clubs and activities, including Academic Decathlon and Asian Culture club. She also tutors science students after school.

Maintaining a balance between volleyball and her academic demands was a challenge this season, Pearson admitted, but it forced her to work efficiently in the little spare time she had each night. She also made a point of getting to bed at a reasonable hour.

“Maximizing the amount of time I could sleep helped me a lot this season,” she said. “If I can’t sleep, I can’t play volleyball. So, by having to prioritize sleep, I was also having to prioritize time management.”

Though she isn’t sure exactly where she’ll end up next year, Pearson does know that she will miss the tight-knit communities and close friendships she formed at Niwot in both the classroom and on the court.

“I’ll definitely have memories of playing in the final game against Lewis-Palmer in the semifinals at state,” she said. “But it’s the little things too – practicing everyday with the girls and having fun times in the locker room and just having such a support system with volleyball.”