Wednesday, August 5, 2015

National Team | Krista Vansant transitions to volleyball’s world stage

Vansant joins fellow UW alums Thompson and Miyashiro for Give it Back Foundation fundraiser; Misty May-Treanor at AVP event in Seattle this weekend

US National Team setter Courtney Thompson, outside hitter Krista Vansant and libero Tama Miyashiro at the Give it Back Foundation workshop in Lynwood's Academy Sports Center
-Volleyblog Seattle photo by Leslie Hamann

From where she stood, Krista Vansant could see both her past and her future.

In Washington Volleyball Academy’s gorgeous new Academy Sports Center in Lynwood, the former Washington All-American looked out at bleachers full of eager young athletes. The youngest were freckled, wearing braces on their teeth and headbands across their foreheads. The oldest were anxious about the approach of college and the demands of big-time volleyball.

On either side of Vansant were nine of her US National Team teammates, including fellow UW alums, Olympians Courtney Thompson and Tama Miyashiro. Thompson and Miyashiro had gathered everyone in Seattle for three days of technical and team-building workshops, all to raise funds for their new nonprofit, the Give it Back Foundation.

Squeezed between those two worlds, Vansant admitted that the transition from college star to international rookie has been a challenge.

“Definitely uncomfortable,” she said. “I don’t know if there’s ever a point where you feel comfortable. Even when I was at Washington, I don’t think I ever actually felt comfortable. I think that’s how you learn. I don’t think you can learn in a comfortable setting.”

In American volleyball, it’s rare for players just out of college to be in serious contention for roster spots in major competitions. But both Vansant and UCLA grad Karsta Lowe have made a splash this summer. Vansant was the leading scorer and MVP of her first international tournament, the Pan Am Cup in Peru. Last month, she spent two weeks in Turkey and Russia as USA won its first six matches of the World Grand Prix, then headed to Toronto as USA’s starting outside hitter at the Pan Am Games.

“It was a little weird,” she admits, “because the Toronto group had been training while we were off at Grand Prix. They had been working on different things and had a good sense of each other, especially with the setters. But we’re all friends, we all get along. So, it’s easy to fit in.”

On one amazing Saturday, one American split squad—including Thompson, Miyashiro and Lowe—won the Grand Prix gold in Omaha by defeating a Brazilian split squad, while Vansant and her teammates in Toronto beat the other Brazilian squad—including several Olympians—for the Pan Am gold medal.

At the international level, outside hitters must excel at attacking, blocking, passing and serving. Vansant has stepped into a system that some are calling “USA fast,” a quick-tempo offense with sharp passing and flat, pinpoint sets, something Vansant experienced during her four years at Washington.

“It’s not that much faster in-system,” Vansant says. “But out of system, it’s way faster than what I’ve ever done. At UW, we called a first step set out-of-system, now we’re going second-step sets in transition out-of-system. The coaches had to tell me multiple times, ’Krista, we’re going to set you a go.’ I had to trans off faster or get going faster.

“It’s definitely what I try to do. I think (former UW coach) Jim (McLaughlin) ingrained that into my head my freshman year: you’ve gotta get off the net, you have to be an offensive option. And it’s what I’ve been doing since then. But even today, there were times in Toronto when my teammates looked at me and said, you’re not transing hard enough, you need to trans harder.

“That was a wakeup call for me. You think in your head you’re doing something really well, and then some outsider tells you that, you figure it’s time to really kick yourself into gear and go. I think it’s a part of me, but I know I can still get better. I can get even further off to get an even bigger approach. I’m going against some huge blockers, so I have to take every advantage I can.”

Later this month, the US joins 11 other teams in Japan for the World Cup, an 11-match, 15-day round-robin. The top two teams earn a ticket to next summer’s Rio Olympics. 14 players will be on that World Cup team, and Vansant may be one of them (with setter Thompson and libero Miyashiro also likely candidates.) This fall, she’ll get her first professional paycheck, playing (with USA teammates Foluke Akinradewo and Natalie Hagglund) for Thompson’s old team, Volero Zurich.

And besides working on the technical side of her game, she hopes to take other steps forward, too. On that list: learning to relax when something on the court goes wrong.

“When I make mistakes, I get within myself. I stop talking, and that’s when bad stuff happens. Self-talk has really helped me. I’m trying to play outside myself. Jim (McLaughlin) would tell me that all the time, just play outside yourself, let your instincts come.

“I’ve been playing this game for over half my life, so it is instinctual for me. I hope frustrations are not too dramatic on my face, but sometimes it just happens.”

  • Two giant Northwest beach volleyball events conflict this weekend. The AVP professional beach volleyball tour will be in Seattle this weekend at Lake Sammamish, while the annual Seaside tournament kicks off in Seaside, Oregon. The latter event is for beach players of all skill levels, while the AVP event is a chance to see some of the world’s top professionals and Olympians make a rare appearance in the Seattle area.
Olympian Misty May-Treanor will play in her first pro tournament since the London Olympics, partnering with Brittany Hochevar. An AVP spokesperson would not call this a “comeback,” for May-Treanor, and points out that she and Hochevar will be seeded 12th.
Also on the sand will be former UW player Summer Ross, and recent Pan Am Games indoor gold medalists Kristin Hildebrand and Lauren Paolini, playing in their first-ever AVP tournament.

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