COLUMBIA — She puts a smile on her teammates' faces, makes her coaches laugh and is full of positive energy. Kayla Rhodes brings the Hickman volleyball team much-needed optimism.
"I've always been really outgoing," Rhodes said. "It's just my personality."
Rhodes is a setter for the Kewpies, and throughout their 4-15 season, she has been the spark that keeps the team from giving up. On the court, Rhodes constantly communicates with her teammates, tells them they are doing well and keeps their spirits high after an error.
"I just never stop talking," Rhodes said. "I try to never be negative on the court. If a player screws up, I like to be the one to turn the negative into a positive. I tell them, 'Hey, you'll get it next time.' Of course there are days when I am not in the best of moods, but I come to practice, and I leave it all behind."
In a four-on-four scrimmage during a practice this week, when Rhodes and her other teammates won a volley, Rhodes would yell "Oh yeah!" accompanied by a victory dance that looked something like the stanky leg.
"She is a spark-plug for the team on the court," Kewpies coach Greg Gunn said, laughing. "She is a hoot, especially at practice."
After the Kewpies' 25-18, 25-23 loss Thursday to visiting Jefferson City, Rhodes was the one in need of encouragement from her teammates after her service error ended the match.
While she huddled around her teammates after the game, Rhodes held back tears, and her teammates took over the role of cheerleader, not allowing Rhodes to blame herself for the loss.
"I received a lot of hugs and support from the team after the game," Rhodes said. "I have been there for them, and they were there for me after a tough loss."
One source of encouragement for Rhodes was teammate Sarah Hall.
"She has always been the one to pick up the team," Hall said. "She definitely keeps us laughing, too."
Hall recalled the game where Rhodes had one of her first kills.
"As a setter, she does not really get that opportunity," Hall said. "But she finally got a kill. She was so excited, she started shimmying on the court. The crowd was silent as we all laughed. She didn't care."
Gunn said Rhodes' positive outlook never wavers.
"I have never heard anything negative come out of her mouth," Gunn said. "Setters often take a lot of the blame for setting too high, low, bad placement, all the time. Kayla takes hits like that and still stays positive. She is a great teammate."
Hickman plays next at 6 p.m. Monday against visiting Timberland.