Jamming in Five Questions, Lauren Carlini

Like an election cycle, preparations are being made to fill the 12 roster spots and create the best possible team for the 2020 Olympics. The start of a new quad presents volleyball fans with new faces, new names, new challenges, and of course, lots and lots of new questions. And so it is with great pleasure that I dust off my blog and get back to my keyboard. That's right! "Five Questions" is back!

It started in the spring with thirty-six women in the American Sports Center gym in Anaheim. That number was pared down to fourteen for the first event of the new quad, the Pan Am Games, which pitted some of the strongest volleyball countries in our hemisphere against one another, each starting the search for the chemistry and connection that might bring home golden glory four summers from now.

One of the new faces that made the trip to Peru was Lauren Carlini. Lauren is familiar to hard core fans of the game as one of the best setters in the country and perhaps the history of NCAA volleyball. A native of Aurora, Illinois, Lauren played four years at Wisconsin and led the Badgers to four NCAA tournament appearances. In her freshman year of 2013, Lauren set the Badgers all the way to the finals before succumbing to Penn State. Carlini’s leadership also took Wisconsin to elite eight appearances in 2014 and 2016, and to the sweet sixteen in 2015. Her accolades as listed on the Wisconsin volleyball website are lengthy to say the least, so here are the highlights:

2014, 2015, 2016 AVCA First-Team All-American
2013 AVCA Second-Team All-American
2014 Big Ten Player of the Year
2014, 2015 Big Ten Setter of the Year
2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 All-Big Ten
2014 Louisville NCAA Regional All-Tournament
2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year
2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 AVCA All-Northeast Region
2013 AVCA Northeast Region Freshman of the Year
2013 NCAA Championship All-Tournament
2013 Champaign NCAA Regional MVP
Big Ten Player of the Week–Oct. 27, 2014
Big Ten Setter of the Week–Sept. 8, 2014; Sept. 22, 2014; Nov. 3, 2014 (co); Nov. 24, 2014; Oct. 5, 2015; Nov. 9, 2015; Nov. 16, 2015; Nov. 30, 2015; Aug. 29, 2016 (co); Oct. 31, 2016; Nov. 21, 2016
Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week–Nov. 4, 2013
2016 Rainbow Wahine Invitational MVP
2015 Creighton Classic All-Tournament
2014 and 2016 HotelRED Invitational All-Tournament
2013 NC State Invitational All-Tournament
2014, 2016 CoSIDA Academic All-District
2014, 2015, 2016 Academic All-Big Ten

I predict this is only the beginning for Lauren!  She most definitely will have an impact on this quad, as is shown by the team’s rousing start earning a gold medal in the Pan Am Games. Now that you get the picture of Lauren Carlini, let’s get to those questions!

Hey Lauren, just want to say straight up, as a fan of Big10 Volleyball, I'm a huge fan of how you play the game, and how you run the court. It's so cool that you agreed to help me re-energize this format, and kick off the new quad! Here are your "Five Questions"

Every player who gets to the pull on the USA jersey has her start somewhere.  What is your earliest volleyball memory, and was there a moment in a long ago match, something a coach said, or even a life event, that put you on this path?

I have wanted to be a part of the USA team for a long time now and I think there are 2 very specific times that stick out in my mind that put me on this path. The first event happened when I was 9 years old.  I've never been artistic, as a matter of fact, I can barely draw stick figures if my life depended on it. But one day I was just doodling and ended up drawing a picture of myself, with a number 7 USA jersey on. I was too young to truly grasp the idea of being on the National Team one day, but I think that was the beginning of the dream. 

A few years later, in the 7th grade, I was at a High Performance Pipeline tournament and we were doing a team activity. Our coaches asked us, "where do you want volleyball to take you, what are your goals?" People started off answering with things like "I want to make my high school team," "I want play in college," "I want to go to USC on a scholarship." Once it got to me, I was close to the end, I simply said "I want to play in the Olympics." Of course, everyone after that said "OH, OH I want to play in the Olympics too!" Again, I had not really thought about the possibility of being on the Olympic Team much before, but something inside me sparked me to say that. I wanted to dream bigger and set my standards higher than everyone else and I have been chasing that dream ever since. 

At Wisconsin you played all four years under Coach Sheffield.  From a fan’s perspective, Kelly seems like the perfect mentor. Two words come to mind: perpetration and connection. How accurate is that, and are there others you might use to give us a sharper image of what it's like to play for him?

I think the word perpetration, in terms of "committing" is definitely something Kelly takes a lot of pride in. I loved the way he went about things because he was all in, 100%, all the time. He gave the team the tools to be exceptional in every aspect of our lives and he wanted us to have higher standards for ourselves. Both he and the staff put so much time and effort into preparing us for matches and competition, it is unmatched. They are so committed to being the best they can be for us and it will continue to pay off. 

The word "connection" holds even stronger with Kelly. He and the staff make it a priority to make true, lifelong connections throughout our career. He has an open door policy and will drop whatever he is doing to sit down and chat. You can stop in to say hi, catch up, talk about volleyball, family, whatever you want, he makes it happen. But most importantly, he makes everyone feel like we are family. He does not just care about us as volleyball players, he cares about how we are doing in school, how our family is, what our plans are short term and long term, and helps us through the tough times. It was truly an honor getting to be coached by Kelly and I know that he will always have my back and be one of my biggest supporters and believers moving forward in my life. 

I think one thing worth mentioning about Kelly is the fact that he takes the extra time and effort to learn the art of communication, for lack of a better term. Each year, we take a personality test, called the DISC test. It is basically a test that shows how certain personalities prefer to communicate especially in times of high stress situations. In volleyball, this skill is so important in knowing how to get each and every player to respond to the struggle and communicate in an efficient manner. Kelly makes it a point to learn every player's personality type, how they prefer to communicate, and what drives each player. This is just one example of how Kelly seeks out information and wants to be exceptional in communicating and connecting with his team. 

Now you find yourself in the American SportsCenter Gym in Anaheim!  That has to be a humbling moment, a pinch me, is this real moment. What was it like walking into that facility and what are the words you might use to describe Karch as a coach and mentor?  

I can't help but smile every time I walk into the gym. Every morning I am grateful to be able to walk into the gym and be in a position that thousands of girls would love to be in. This type of feeling just reminds me how lucky I am and how grateful I am to be given the opportunity to train with some of the best in the world every day. Being able to be coached by one of the best the game has ever seen is just a cherry on top. Karch has been awesome. He is so optimistic and positive while maintaining his high standards for "USA Good" everyday. I have found great insight in all of our meetings because he has such a higher level perspective/ thinking of the game. I have also enjoyed hearing all of the stories he has accumulated over the years of being both a player and a coach, I can't wait to hear more of those!! All in all, he has already helped me both mentally and physically adjust to the international game and I am looking forward to working with him moving forward. 

What in your mind makes the perfect teammate? Whom among all of your past and current teammates best exemplifies these qualities? 

In my mind, the perfect teammate is someone who puts the team above all else. They are the ones who are willing to make sacrifices for the betterment of the team. They also really take the time to get to know people both on and off the court while always boosting team morale. Being able to connect on a deeper level is so important on high caliber, winning teams.

I have had a few GREAT teammates over the years and 2 that instantly come to mind are Haleigh Nelson and Jordan Robbins. Both of them were on my Wisconsin team and they have taught me so much about being a great person and teammate. They are selfless, trustworthy, positive, supportive, and LEADERS! I am so grateful to have had amazing teammates over the years and those types of players are the ones that keep the train going.

On July 5th, FloVolleyball is airing a documentary that follows you at Wisconsin. Tell me about that experience. Are you comfortable in that kind of spotlight? 

I am so excited for everyone to see this! First off, Sydney Hilley is going to go above and beyond expectations of Badger fans. She. Is. Awesome. She is such a hard worker, a good teammate, and a natural leader. She is going to have a great career at Wisconsin, I have NO DOUBT!  

The documentary was interesting and I was asked some really probing questions. I also opened up about some struggles that I have been going through recently and I hope that I can reach out to people in any way by sharing my experiences and let them know that they are not alone. It was a really powerful documentary and there is some great information in there that I think a lot of players, fans, and coaches can latch onto. 

I really do love getting out in the public and being able to speak about my experiences, how I got here, where I hope to go, and my struggles. I want to inspire other people to be exceptional in whatever they choose to do and I am more than happy to be in the spotlight if people feel empowered by what I say or how I play. I love to help people achieve greatness and be a source of inspiration, so it is my honor to be in the position that I am.

NEW FEATURE ALERT! The 6th, bonus question will from now on come from a fan. First up is my friend Joel Schafer from Omaha, Nebraska.

What is it like being teammates with so many young women who used to be rivals? Does that take any kind of adjustment?

I LOVE IT!! Seriously, it is so fun being able to compete on the same team with former rivals. A ton of us came from the Big 10 so we all already knew each other and I have so much respect for these women. We have all been through some serious battles over the years, but none of that truly matters anymore. Sure, sometimes we'll bring up a random game in conversation and have a little fun with it or joke about it but we all know that we are on the same team now and we are working towards the same goal. It did not take any adjustments, it is just a new teammate that you have to get used to and it really has been such a fun time getting to know all of them both on and off the court. One team, one dream now! 

Thank you, Lauren for taking the time to answer our questions. Best of luck moving forward with the National Team! The dream is golden, go get some!!!

So that's it. Five Questions is back!  We are always looking for interesting subjects, inside and outside of the Volleyball community. Who is next? If you have any suggestions email Tim Toy, at tim.jamthegym@gmail.com. Let's keep it going!