Rock Chalk Weekly: Creating Her Role
Written by Shelby Blankenbaker, Kansas Athletic Communications Student Assistant
The set is tied 22-22, with the match tied at 1-1, a critical point in the match. A clear momentum shift in store for the dominant team of this set. Anderson comes off the bench cold, expected to step behind the serving line and produce for her team in order to advance past Creighton to the NCAA Sweet 16. The crowd is silent. Anderson steps up to the serving line, not a doubt in her mind that she can do this. She is prepared for this moment. This is her role as a serving specialist for the Kansas Jayhawks.
But that is not how the story began.
Anderson’s rapport with Kansas volleyball began when she was a junior in high school and attended one of head coach Ray Bechard’s high school camps. Anderson thrived at the camp and truly felt like Kansas is where she belonged. The level of play excited her and propelled her to express interest playing for Kansas to one of the assistants. Her first date with Kansas was a success and she knew that she wanted some type of formal commitment.
“From the very first day of camp I said to myself, ‘I need to come here and play. I love it here,'” Anderson reflected.
Anderson did not go unnoticed. Associate coach Laura “Bird” Kuhn and some of the other coaches had been thinking about her, too. However, the roster was already full for Anderson’s class. There was no way they could find space for her. The relationship between Kansas and Anderson was seemingly coming to an end. Although Anderson was disappointed in the news, she remained very optimistic, still hoping there would be some way Kansas could find a place for her.
The fall of her senior year of high school, determined to play volleyball at a collegiate level, Anderson verbally committed to the University of Nebraska-Kearney (UNK). In February of her senior year of high school, Anderson was in the basement of her house when she opened a 12-day-old email from Bird.
Anderson remembers vividly that her dad was upstairs when she screamed with excitement after reading the email. Her dad, just as shocked as she was, first lectured her on checking her email more often and then advised her to quickly call Kansas.
The email from Bird was just what Anderson was once so optimistic for. Bird addressed that the two had not communicated about her coming to Kansas since her junior year and was curious about her future college plans. Bird offered her the alternative of coming to Lawrence to take a spot on the team as a walk-on setter. The coaches remembered what promising potential Anderson had and they could not get her off their minds.
Although the news was quite the dream for the high school senior, Anderson still had one problem: she was committed to a school already. Anderson called the UNK coach immediately and consistently kept him in the loop as she decided which school to pursue. The UNK coach encouraged Anderson to take the opportunity with Kansas, but if it did not end up working out, he assured Anderson she would still have a place at UNK.
To Anderson, there was no decision to be made. She was going to Kansas if they would have her. Two months after Bird’s initial email, Anderson was officially placed on KU’s roster.
“When we threw it out there that we wanted her to become part of our program, she was really excited about it,” Bechard recalled. “She can tell you what day we called, what she was doing, and what she was wearing. It was one of those moments for her.”
From the moment Anderson stepped onto campus as a high school junior attending a Kansas volleyball camp, she knew that she had to come here and play.
Anderson redshirted her freshman year with the Jayhawks. That season empowered Anderson to develop a role for herself on the team. Anderson stepped up and took on the role as a non-stop communicator on the court, bridging the gap of communication between her teammates and coaches.
At the end of Anderson’s second spring season, she was brought into Bechard’s office for her bi-annual meeting to recap the year. Anderson and the coaches discussed how the season went, addressed what areas needed work and set goals. By the end of the meeting, in typical fashion, Bechard threw in that the coaches had decided that Anderson deserved a scholarship for the year.
Another dream coming true for the walk-on. A well-deserved and humble Anderson cried.
“It hit me like a brick wall,” Anderson exclaimed as she relived the moment. “I get to have another awesome phone call with my mom and dad right now. I hope they are so proud of me because I am proud of this moment.”
All of Anderson’s hard work and solid work ethic paid off. Her role as a leader in communication on and off the court had not gone unnoticed. And her ability to form personal relationships with her teammates, who she considers her sisters, proved beneficial.
“I learned my work ethic from my parents,” Anderson declared. “My brothers are kind of like mom and dad in that nothing was handed to me. I had to earn it. I came home from high school one day after I broke the career aces at Lincoln Southwest, and they were like ‘nice job’ and gave me a pat on the back.”
Anderson explained, “They don’t over gratify anything and it just makes me want to be more successful. I want those pats on the back. When someone doesn’t over gratify something, it makes you want to go achieve more and show them that you can do more.”
Earning a scholarship was just like breaking the record for career aces in high school. One of Anderson’s goals had be achieved, but it was just another pat on the back. Anderson knew she would have to prove herself year after year to continue earning her role on the team.
“When you earn something like this that you weren’t expecting it is so much more fulfilling and I’m reminded of that every day when I wake up,” Anderson said. “It’s something you don’t forget.”
Anderson reflected, “It is my experiences that make it different because I know I wake up every day thinking I couldn’t be here, I didn’t have to earn a scholarship. I hope other people wake up every morning having those things to think about and that they should be grateful for.”
Like a well-spoken leader and teammate who truly cares about her team, Anderson preached, “Players shouldn’t go ask for positions. You just feel what your role is and you do it. You’ve got to give 100% in your role – whatever it’s supposed to be.”
As a junior this season, Anderson has embraced her role on the court as a serving specialist. She is thrown into games at a moment’s notice to serve an aggressive ball to change the momentum of the game. In many situations the score is close and the team is depending on her to perform.
“I have one opportunity that the coaches put full trust in me to go in and serve two, three, four balls in a row, aggressively, and get the other team out of system. Most times it is at the end of sets where the score is 22-23 or 24-24, when there really is no margin for error,” Anderson said.
Anderson explained how her mental toughness is one of her assets. It is vital that she has a clear mind and confidence in herself when she steps back to serve the ball.
Anderson joked, “You’ve just got to talk yourself up. They don’t know what’s coming. You got to get cocky with yourself, but keep it in your head, obviously.” Anderson grinned.
Not only does Anderson take her role on the court seriously, but off the court, Anderson is a leader on the bench and during practice. Anderson is found giving direction on defensive plays and is easily approachable for teammates who have questions. She finds that when her teammates do have a question, they come to her. Whether she has an answer or not, she helps guide them to solutions.
Bechard boasted, “She’s an unconditional communicator. So regardless of her role, regardless of how her day is going, regardless how the drill is going, she is committed to a certain level of communication.”
Anderson doesn’t understand why people listen to her or what qualities she possesses that make her teammates eager to follow her. She attributes some of her leadership success, on and off the court, to the personal relationships she has established and maintained with her teammates.
“She really loves her team,” Bechard said. “She loves what KU volleyball stands for and there’s nothing fake about it.”
No matter what role Anderson is put in, it is without a doubt she will give it all she has.
“To be a Division 1 athlete in any sport you have to love the journey,” Anderson pointed out. “You can’t be semi-in, you have got to be all-in. The reason why I give so much to this team is because I love being here.”
Bechard believes Anderson projects the kind of culture that he and his staff want in their Kansas volleyball program. There is a reason he puts so much trust into Anderson during those game-changing plays.
“She’s not afraid of the big moment,” Bechard said. “She’ll do whatever is asked however she can help the team and create a role for herself.”
So when the score is tied and the game is on the line, Anderson embraces her role, takes a deep breath and aggressively launches the ball over the net. Finishing out the set at the service line to advance her team to the next victory. That is the role she has earned and is succeeding at. This is what Anderson is at Kansas to do.
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