Former MU volleyball player ready for coaching position

Saturday, March 26, 2011 | 8:50 p.m. CDT; updated 9:57 a.m. CDT, Monday, March 28, 2011
Tatum Anderson, then Tatum Ailes, celebrates a successful point in a 2006 Missouri volleyball match. Anderson was hired in February as the new Rock Bridge High School volleyball coach.

COLUMBIA — In the summer of 2004, Tatum Anderson was ready for a relaxing June and July at home in Nebraska. The Missouri volleyball team had recruited Anderson, then Tatum Ailes, out of Bellevue West High School, but she was not expected to join the team until August.

Then came an unexpected phone call.

“I had prepared that I was going to enjoy my summer, but they gave me a call in June, and said, ‘We need you to be here in a week,’” Anderson said.

Sara Parks, the senior libero for the Tigers, had left the team, leaving the position open for the 2004 season. Not one to back away from a challenge, Anderson came to Columbia a week later.

“I dropped everything and left and I think that showed them that I was committed to the team,” Anderson said. “I think my competitiveness took over, and just wanting to win the position, knowing that I had a lot to work on, but I was willing to do it.”

Anderson, who earned the starting position before the Tigers’ first game against Wisconsin that season, continues to be a quick starter.

Anderson was hired in February to take over as girls volleyball coach for Rock Bridge High School. She replaces Vicky Reimler, who coached the Bruins from 1982 to 2002 and came out of retirement to coach the Bruins in 2010, leading the team to their first district championship in 25 years.

Taking over the Bruins program at age 25 is just one of a long line of quick starts for Anderson. She began playing club volleyball when she was 7 and went on to start all four years on her varsity high school team. By the time she got to MU, Anderson had no intention of watching from the bench.

As a freshman at Missouri, Anderson broke school records for digs, and the Tigers defeated Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament for the programs' second victory in NCAA tournament play. The next season, she led the Big 12 Conference in digs and was named Big 12 Libero of the Year.

It was a significant accomplishment for Anderson, who had played setter in high school.

“The setter is like the quarterback or the point guard,” Anderson said. “They do everything; set, block, defense, serve, attack, they just do it all.”

But at 5 feet, 6 inches tall, Anderson was considered too small to play the position in Division I volleyball. Conversely, the libero spot looked like it had been made for her.

“It’s pretty much a glorified defensive specialist,” Anderson said. “You have to be very aggressive, not scared to take one in the chops.”

Aggressiveness was never a problem for Anderson. Her competitive nature showed through on the court, leading her strength and conditioning coach Shannon Turley to give her the nickname “Killer.”

“I was more, in your face than a lot of people,” Anderson said. “Everyone used to make fun of me that I wanted to be a cage fighter.”

Anderson's mother, Holly Parkhurst said she recognized her daughter's determination when Anderson was a child.

“She was a trailblazer,” Parkhurst said. “She liked to be the one to make her mark.”

As a senior in high school, Anderson played with her younger sister, Gabi Ailes, who, like her sister, started as a freshman. Anderson pushed her sister to get better, which often meant extra lip service. Even in that situation, Parkhurst said Anderson could be intense.

“Tate can be very tough, believe me.” Parkhurst said. "Gabi is very mild-mannered and took it in stride. Tate had a very hard time letting go of things so I got to hear a lot from Tate.”

But Gabi Ailes listened to her sister, and together they helped lead Bellevue West to a 46-2 record and a state championship that season. A smile reaches from ear to ear as Anderson recalls playing with her sister.

“It was pretty memorable,” Anderson said. “I’ll never forget it, setting my sister the entire time. It was an awesome experience.”

It was Anderson coaching before she knew she was a coach.

“A life-changing experience for me,” Gabi Ailes said. “She was on my case all the time as a sister, making me better.”

Now Anderson will look to leave her mark on Rock Bridge volleyball. Yet again, Anderson has been off to a fast start.

Two years ago, Anderson began giving private lessons to several Bruins players, including junior libero Nici Thaler. Anderson says she has come to know Thaler well and hopes to see her succeed.

“I really want to watch her hopefully go to the next level,” Anderson said.

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