I am not your ordinary observer of sport. When I watch, I watch just a little closer. Not just at the X's and O's, I watch the action for sure, but I look for reaction as well. If I watch a marathon, I don't stop watching after the Kenyan's break the tape and collect the wreath of laurels... Often the best stories, the ones with the deepest meaning, and the greatest lessons are just a little further back in the pack.
Imagine, if you will..
Marc-Andre Fleury backstops my beloved Pittsburgh Penguins to their fourth Stanley Cup. He had a fantastic year and was a key contributor to the team, but as training camp opens he realizes he has been replaced...
…by an 18 year old left winger who has shown promising dexterity for this new position. Would the "Flower" help this kid pull on his equipment and would he instruct him on the nuances of "his" position?
I can't imagine he would, but Kristin Carpenter did, and as wild as this story is, it's pretty close to what she experienced in 2011. Carpenter’s sophomore season in 2010 must have felt like a dream come true. She replaced All-American setter Alisha Glass and the Lady Lions didn’t seem to miss a beat. She played in all 37 matches, starting in 36 of them. She guided the Lion’s offense to a .314 hitting percentage which was tops in the Big 10 and second in the nation. She had 46 assists, 8 digs, and 3 blocks in the NCAA finals against California and was named to the All-Tournament team. Kristin Carpenter was rolling. Returning in the fall of 2011 to State College for the start of training Kristin should have been a shoe in for the setting position. Head Coach Russ Rose had other plans, but that’s not what makes Kristin’s story exceptional. It is the grace and dignity in which she handled these changes that makes this a tale worth telling. So here in “Carp’s” own words is a very special edition of “5 Questions”.
Current Location: Markopoulo, Greece (Athens’ suburb)
Team: A.O. Markopoulo
College: Penn State
This year you are playing in Greece.
What is the climate like where you are and what do you like most about Greece?
Right now, I’m sitting on my balcony in 75 degree weather and it’s sunny! There hasn’t been many rainy days but the temperature has been gradually getting cooler. It’s also a bit humid but I don’t mind that at all! The food is actually the BEST part. Between the fresh squeezed orange juice from the tree outside to the different types of meats, I’m in heaven here. Because everything is so fresh, I have to make multiple trips to the grocery every week since there are no preservatives to make anything last longer than a week- not complaining though...especially since it's not exactly an expensive country.
Your professional journey has been very diverse. What was your favorite city to play in and what country has the best fans?
This season we played some scrimmages in Istanbul, (Constantinople if you are in Greece, they’re still bitter about the name change) Turkey and I’ve never seen any place love volleyball more than then those fans. It was an atmosphere like no other! I really enjoyed playing in the jam-packed gym even though we got swept by the home team.
You were surrounded by so many great players at Penn State.
Is it hard to join a completely different team coming out of college and who have you stayed closest with?
If anyone knows me at all they know that I have zero problems making friends in new places. I can talk to anyone, anywhere. So sure, I was a bit nervous but there weren't any issues with joining a new team or community. As for the people I played with at Penn State, I try to keep in touch with as many as I can. Of course my class, Marika Racibarskas and Darcy Dorton as well as the class ahead of me and most of the girls who are playing overseas right now; Deja McClendon, Katie Slay, Arielle Wilson. I do camps over the summer with Alyssa D’Errico and Maggie Harding and between babies and weddings, a bunch of us always find a way to come together. It’s strange going from seeing these girls every day to finding a time between work and practices and time zones to talk to each other. I’m not sure if I have to even mention this, but of course I talk to Coach Rose whenever I can :)
I would be remiss if I didn't ask you what I've wanted to ask for a few years now.
Your time at Penn State was marked by some incredible victories and some level of disappointment.
Your team won the NCAA title in your sophomore year, with you at the helm as a setter.
When you returned for your junior year you had to battle for a position in the court, ultimately playing in a limited role as a Defensive Specialist.
At the time I marveled in your commitment to the team, observing from a distance.
What went on at that time and how were you able to maintain such a respectable team first attitude?
Well, it wasn’t easy. Being as competitive as I am, it was even tougher. I had plenty of opportunities to feel sorry for myself and throw huge pity parties but in the bigger picture, it’s not about me. If it was about me, I would be playing singles tennis or golfing. I’m very thankful that that’s how my parents raised me and having a dad as a coach, he made it even clearer that volleyball is the biggest team sport out there. Even when I was going through that year he would constantly remind me to do what the team needed me to do. Micha didn’t have a setter coach when she came in and earned the setting spot. What I had learned from Alisha Glass (who learned from Salima Rockwell) I passed it onto her. As much as it hurt, if I wasn’t going to be the starting setter, I was going to do everything in my power to help her become the best setter in the country. My junior year I went from starting setter to starting libero to first defensive specialist to serving specialist. I am the only person I know who has lost four different positions in one single season and the craziest thing about it is Coach continued to give me opportunities. 2011 season was ultimately a blessing in disguise for me as a teammate and as a person.
How did Coach Rose handle the situation that made it just a little easier to accept, what words might help a coach who has a similar dilemma?
Well, Coach Rose never really makes anything easy to accept, especially in tough situations. He’s a coach who is going to push your buttons until you break and then a little more. Now with that said, he knows how to talk to each and every one of his players. There’s a method to the madness. What he says to me was completely different than what he says to let’s say, Katie Slay. He knew that even if I didn’t play a single point in a game and we lost, he could blame the entire thing on me and I could handle it. That’s what I would say to a coach with any situation similar to mine. Know your players. Know how to talk to them and help them be better even if you know what you say to them might sting. Coach Rose didn’t just prepare me for volleyball games, he prepared me for life. Life isn’t easy. I’m forever grateful for that man.
You have been able to extend your volleyball career and live/travel to some pretty incredible places. What words of advice do you have for outgoing senior players on how to put themselves into the best possible position?
Use your resources! The volleyball world is very small so reach out to as many people as possible. Most of the time if they can't help you, they know someone who can! Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Do your research on agents and make sure you get the one that’s best for YOU. There’s a place and a team for everyone...even if you're an undersized (thanks, mom) setter. I wish you the best of luck :)
I have wondered and waited a long time to get the chance to ask Kristin these questions. Just the other day after publishing "Cultivating the Ultimate Trust", http://www.jamthegym.com/jamming-in-five-questions/2014/11/18/cultivating-the-ultimate-trust I noticed that "Carp" was now following the @jamthegym twitter account I use to promote this blog. A door squeaked open and it didn't take me long to pull this together with (again) most of the credit going to exceptionally well thought out answers! I have Kristin to thank for that.
So many times I have speculated on what the subjects of "Five Questions" are like. I am always left with the idea that each and every one of them would make for a fascinating lunch time chat. Kristin definitely fits into this category. Thanks Carp! Maybe I'll buy you an MTO from Sheetz sometime!