Friday, January 19, 2018
Sports

Hillsborough County volleyball season preview

TAMPA — At the age of 16, Courtney Vogler was on the cusp of the jet-setting life of a cover model.

Her future could have included more photo shoots in international fashion hubs like London, Milan and Paris.

The assignments likely would have become more prominent and more lucrative, from Kohl's and Avon to Victoria's Secret and Sports Illustrated.

"If she was able to dedicate her self to full-time modeling, she definitely could go to the next level," said Ron Gerard, her Miami-based agent with Next Management modeling agency.

Instead, Vogler chose — for now — to pursue the next level on the hardwood rather than the runway. The Academy of the Holy Names junior has made it clear to Gerard, her parents and her coaches that she will devote herself to school and volleyball, where she is no less a promising talent.

After only two years of year-round commitment to the game, Vogler showed enough potential to draw scholarship offers from major-college programs such as Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina and Ole Miss.

This month, after a string of strong performances on the summer travel circuit, Vogler ended the recruitment process and made an oral commitment to North Carolina.

"I don't see myself going to school anywhere else," she said. "This is what I want to do, that is where I want to be."

But a career in Chapel Hill must wait: Vogler's immediate priority is leading Holy Names to the playoffs and completing her ascent into the ranks of the area's best players.

She spent much of the summer starring for the top Tampa Bay ONE 16-and-under team, refining her raw talent and developing a competitive fire that should serve her well with the inexperienced Jaguars.

"We've seen her evolve in ways that we wouldn't have imagined possible," said her father, Matt Vogler, a former standout quarterback at Robinson High who went on to play at Auburn and TCU. "She was commanding respect from her opponents and her teammates. … It was a great thing to watch."

Few people, including her parents, could have predicted this transformation.

Matt and Dawn Vogler signed up Courtney for softball when she was 8. It was her favorite sport through middle school, where she towered over classmates and excelled enough to make several all-star travel teams.

Along the way, Dawn Vogler — also a model and former manager of an agency in Ponte Vedra Beach — decided to take 12-year-old Courtney to some agencies in Miami after years of steady work in local advertising campaigns and infomercials (many with late family friend Billy Mays of OxiClean fame).

Very quickly, it became clear Courtney had a future in front of the camera.

"I just thought it would be good for her to make some connections and eventually find some work down the line," Dawn Vogler said. "But they wanted to sign her right away."

That soon meant work with major brands including Bealls, Kohl's, JC Penney, Stein Mart and Nordstrom's. The steady stream of assignments took her to places ranging from Milwaukee (Kohl's) to Medellin, Colombia (Avon).

"It has definitely helped me to mature," Courtney Vogler said. "It's hard work … and I've gotten to meet different people from so many walks of life."

By the time Vogler entered ninth grade, she had wearied of the grind of softball and decided to try out for volleyball. Then around 6 feet, she was an attractive — if unschooled — prospect to her coaches at Holy Names.

They started her on the junior varsity team, which practiced on the court next to the Jaguars' varsity. Then in his first year at the school, coach Jeff Davis couldn't help but notice Vogler during those practices.

"Athletically, she had all the tools," Davis said. "The main thing for Courtney was that she needed some experience."

He remained skeptical, however, that Vogler would ever give herself over to the game after learning of her budding modeling career.

When Vogler continued showing up for every practice and game, it became clear to Davis she was serious about the sport. Davis and the coaching staff decided to promote her to varsity a few weeks into the season.

Her introduction was ugly.

"It was awful," Vogler said. "Everybody hated me because I was totally clueless. I was so frustrated with myself."

"I would get so annoyed with her," said Jennifer Aprile, a senior setter and University of Tampa commitment. "I just basically dragged her around the floor because she couldn't remember the rotations."

Gradually, Vogler started delivering on her potential. By the end of her sophomore year, the 6-foot-2 Vogler was one of the team's best players and a budding college prospect.

Her first scholarship offer came from the University of Tampa in March. Samford and Ole Miss followed in April. Then came a handful of others.

But even after being showered with praise and attention from major college programs, Vogler still yearned to hear from North Carolina. Her desire to be wooed by the Tar Heels pushed her to do something rarely done by blue-chip recruits: make the first call.

"They had no idea who I was," she said. "I think they were just being polite."

They weren't. The Tar Heels sent a coach to one of her summer league games in Tampa and invited her to one of their on-campus camps; the subtext was that an offer would be forthcoming if they liked what they saw.

Vogler went to Chapel Hill with her mother in mid July and quickly fell in love with the school and the program. The feeling was, to her delight, mutual.

Now comes two more years at Holy Names, where she hopes to finally topple district rival and state powerhouse Berkeley Prep. Then North Carolina. And maybe, someday again, modeling.

Her agent, however, can't help but think about where else Vogler would be going if modeling were as important to her as volleyball.

"She'd be able to travel the world," Gerard said. "But for her age, with everything she's got on her plate, she's amazing. She's a triple threat and doing it all."

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