Outside hitter Kira Ervin enters her senior season with her “second family” — the Overland volleyball team — which is helping her heal from the loss of her older brother, Camden. With eight players back from a positive 2018 season, Ervin and her teammates are optimistic about the new season. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

The volleyball court always used to be Kira Ervin’s sanctuary.

That all changed in May, when it became the toughest place to be, at least for awhile.

A few months before the start of her senior year at Overland High School, Ervin and her family suffered the tragic loss of her older brother, Camden. The unexplainable loss of a sibling just two years older made volleyball feel foreign, even though she’d played it and loved it for more than a decade.

“Before everything happened, any time I wanted to get away or anything was bothering me, I would get in the gym to take my mind off things,” Kira said. “I would be zoned in on volleyball and volleyball only. After everything happened and I got back in the gym for the first time, the only thing I could think about was him.

“It was just frustrating because before it was an outlet and then it wasn’t. As time went on, it has become my outlet again.”

That process didn’t happen easily.

It was just three months earlier that Camden returned home to Colorado after he finished his freshman year at the University of Kansas, making the Ervin’s family of six —which includes Kira’s 6-year-old brother and 2-year-old sister — whole again.

Camden had won one of the prestigious Daniels Fund scholarships, which cover four years of all college expenses, and found his place at Kansas, where he began to study aeronautical engineering before he switched to business.

Kira got to visit him and found him happy and settled into his new surroundings. It was much like at Overland, where Camden Ervin — who briefly played baseball, basketball and golf in addition to his main sport of tennis — was well-liked and a big part of the school community.

“No one who met him didn’t like him,” Kira said. “He was just one of those people that everyone always enjoyed being around, having his company and talking to him.”

Camden returned home in mid-May and less than a week later died while playing video games in his room in the family’s basement. He had what appeared to be a cold, but nothing that would have indicated anything serious.

Kira said that a recent autopsy discovered that her brother had an enlarged heart, liver and spleen, the right ventricle of his heart was dilated and the left one hadn’t been pumping correctly.

“They said it was very rare, extremely rare to see at his age, especially because we don’t really have a family history of heart problems,” she said. “Our grandparents have them, but they didn’t start having issues until they were a lot older. He seemed fine and nobody expected it.”

Kira’s two siblings are young enough that they don’t really understand what happened, but she will always feel the impact of the loss.

The older siblings were very close.

“Not only was he my big brother that always looked out for me, he was my best friend,” she said, lip quivering.

Kira’s second family, her Overland volleyball team, rushed to embrace her.

Second-year coach Neal Finch and the Trailblazers felt the loss themselves.

“This was a difficult blow to all of us here at Overland, but most of all to our volleyball family,” Finch said. “Kira and her brother were very close and we as a program are dedicating this season to him.”

With the extra support behind her, Kira has been able to pour herself back into volleyball again. She has aspirations of playing in college and eventually as a professional overseas like her private volleyball coach, AJ Nally.

She was a second-team All-Centennial League selection as an outside hitter last season when she averaged 2.9 kills per set and she will be a focal point again for Finch’s team.

The Trailblazers return eight players from a squad that won eight matches last fall, including a four-set win at Smoky Hill that marked the program’s first victory against a Centennial League opponent since 2010.

Overland has followed that up with strong performances at summer camps at the University of Colorado and Northern Colorado and enter the new season with a lot of belief.

“Last year, I feel like a lot of us had the mindset ‘Oh, this is Creek, this is Grandview, we’re not up with them,'” Kira said. “Now, we feel like we can give them a run for their money if we have the right mindset. I think this year is going to be fun.”

Overland’s improvement will be tested, however, because of the league it plays in.

The Centennial League had four teams qualify for the Class 5A state tournament last season — Cherokee Trail, Eaglecrest and Grandview from Aurora, plus Cherry Creek —and those same four teams enter the new season in the top 10 of the first coaches poll.

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports