Vann earns MU libero job after tense preseason

Tuesday, October 21, 2008 | 7:52 p.m. CDT; updated 9:25 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 21, 2008
MU sophomore Caitlyn Vann earned the starting libero spot this season.

Her coaches realized Caitlyn Vann was nervous.

"When I can tell Vann is a little uptight about something, that's when she starts asking to come in and ask to do extra stuff," Wayne Kreklow said. "And she was doing that a lot."

Vann, a sophomore on the MU volleyball team, wanted to earn the libero position before the season. Her freshman year, she was a defensive specialist when then-senior Tatum Ailes was the libero.

Ailes' departure opened up the position. But freshmen Annie Lopez and Priscilla Armendariz joining the team meant Vann being libero wasn't a foregone conclusion, although Vann eventually earned the spot.

"In the beginning of the season, I was real worried about it," Vann said. "I remember last year, I was absolutely balls-out every single practice, trying to prove that I could take that position. And that's kind of how they were."

A libero and a defensive specialist have similar roles, as they both receive serves and play defense. But a libero wears a different color jersey than the rest of the team. The libero is positioned by the coaches in hopes of making the most plays of any player in the back row.

Lopez's ability to receive serves made Vann nervous.

 "She is like lights-out serve-receive," Vann said. "And Pip (Armendariz) is lights-out defense and so I was more intimidated by her (Lopez's) serve-receive because I knew that was my weakest area. Defense I could kind of take care of."

Vann said Kreklow talked to her to get to her to calm down. But he said his strategy was to leave her to her own devices, letting her extra work calm her nerves.

"Being in the gym and doing the reps makes her feel more confident," he said.  

In the end, Kreklow said Vann's experience was the most important factor in her earning the position despite Lopez's serve-receive abilities.

 "I think Annie has a good natural feel for that," Kreklow said. "Annie's got some technique things that she's working hard on. A lot of is just experience. It's confidence, it's knowing how to move to the ball, where to move to the ball. I think Vann is just more experienced and I think she's more comfortable."

While Vann is playing libero, Armendariz and Lopez are seeing playing time as defensive specialists.

When Vann was nervous about earning the position, she turned to someone she had once competed against to be libero, Wisconsin libero Kim Kuzma.

"She knows me," Vann said. "And she knows the weakest part of my game, personally, I think, is just my mental game, because I let stuff get to me really well. So she was just like, ‘You know, you know you're good, you need to chill out.'"

Vann, a native of Muncie, Ind., began playing on the same club as Kuzma when she was 10 years old. For much of the time, they were on different teams. But when Vann was 17, she was on the same team with Kuzma, competing for the libero position. The team did a rotating system, with both players seeing time at libero and other positions.

"We're both extremely competitive," Vann said. "She's probably one of my best friends as far as volleyball goes. But, we're just extremely competitive. We'd be shoving each other out of the way for extra reps and it was just, I don't know, it was brutal in practice, but off the court we were always really good friends."

Kuzma said Vann had a sense of humor during the competition.

"Caitlyn is a very unique person in that she can make anyone laugh in any situation," Kuzma said. "Not really a joke out of it , just make it lighter."

Kuzma describes Vann's sense of humor as sarcastic, and said Vann had sarcastic things to say when they were on the same club team.

 "If she'd make a good dig, she'd be like, ‘Oh, you see that Kuz?'," Kuzma said. "She would yell at the hitters and be like, ‘You're easy.' Kind of like being cocky, but no one really would get mad about it. Everyone would just laugh. She would laugh about it. And so, I don't know, she was always smiling."

Kuzma said teammates wouldn't get mad because her talk would go both ways.

"She was complimentary too," Kuzma said.

In high school, Vann also played basketball and Kuzma played softball. Sometimes they would have to miss club volleyball practices, and Vann would have a sarcastic comment when Kuzma had to miss.

"Kuz, you better not go to softball practice if you want your spot," Kuzma said Vann told her.

Sometimes, Vann provided humor other than sarcasm. Minutes before a match, Vann realized she had forgotten all of her equipment, her shoes, her ankle brace and a knee pads. Kuzma said Vann sent her parents to buy new equipment so she could play.

Four times during high school, the pair had to suspend their friendship for a week. Vann went to Burris Laboratory School and Kuzma went to Muncie Central High School. When the two schools met in volleyball, it was a rivalry match.

"It was the biggest match of the year," Vann said. "And I hated losing to her. It was the worst thing in the world. So, we did hate each other as far as game day goes. But after the game it was fine."

Both players are now playing libero at their schools. With a few of Missouri's recent matches televised, Kuzma managed to see a few minutes of one of Vann's matches on tape delay, though she forgets which match it was.

"I texted her, and I was like, ‘Caitlyn, I'm watching you on TV right now,'" Kuzma said. "And she texted me back and was like, ‘How did I look? What did I do? Did I do well?'"

Kuzma provided reassurance.

"I told her that she passed well and that there was one shot that she made a good hustle play," Kuzma said. "She laughed at me because I said that."


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