COLUMBIA — He's wearing a white Missouri Volleyball T-shirt instead of a gold-sleeved black jersey. His hair, unlike the rest of his teammates for the night, isn't in a bun or ponytail. But sophomore Sports Management student Derek Koetter is an integral part of the 2013 Missouri women's volleyball team.
The volleyball season started with the Black and Gold Game Thursday night in Hearnes Arena. Balloons decorated tables bearing cookies for fans after the match. The Black Team, which included starting seniors Molly Kreklow and Lisa Henning, beat the Gold Team — Koetter's team — in three matches (20-11, 20-18, 20-15).
Seeing Koetter on the court with the rest of the team isn't uncommon. He often practices with the girls in drills and scrimmages, and that's where he was Thursday night before the Black and Gold Game. He stepped off the court briefly during player introductions, but when the game began, he positioned himself on the backline for the Gold Team.
"I like playing with girls better,"said Koetter, who grew up playing club volleyball. "There's more ball control, the rallies last longer. I think it's more fun."
Koetter comes from a long line of athletes. His sister played volleyball growing up. His grandfather was an All-American volleyball player at UCLA. His dad, Dirk Koetter, is a former Missouri football coach and current offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons.
Describing all the places he lived growing up, Derek Koetter checked off the places his dad coached as if reciting a memorized grocery list: Missouri, Boston College, Oregon, Boise State, Arizona State. He paused for a second as he switched to the NFL teams. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons were the final two on his list.
Koetter said that all of the traveling he did growing up made it difficult to choose a university. He applied to 14 schools, hoping to play volleyball.
"My dream was to play D-1 men's volleyball," said Koetter. "I got offers from small D-2 schools and I visited, but I knew I really wanted that big college atmosphere. So being a practice player, it's the best of both worlds."
Assistant coach Lindsey Hunter, a 2005 Missouri graduate and former Tiger herself, spent a few years playing with the U.S. National Team. But she doesn't have time to both play professionally and coach. She does, however, get to jump in along with Koetter. She helps the freshman from the floor as they work out their first-match jitters. "It's kind of fun being able to do that, and transfer my skills that way," Hunter said.
It's especially helpful to have guys who tend to be a little stronger to practice against because of the physicality and strength of teams like Florida and Kentucky and other SEC opponents, Hunter said.
"You wanna see competition that's fast and strong to prepare you for the next level and getting better," Hunter said.
Freshman middle blocker Julia Towler agreed that playing with guys is good preparation for games. "It's hard sometimes to get used to that, because guys can hit really hard," she said. But it's worth it. "They make you better."
And the men are a little bit like members of the team — Towler said they'll do anything for their teammates. "Like a girlfriend, but boyfriend."
The scrimmage ran after a clinic that hosted about 270 youths, coached by Tigers and players from Columbia College. Next weekend, the Tigers will welcome four teams to Columbia for the Tiger Invitational.
When asked if the Missouri volleyball coaches would ever let him suit up and play, Koetter responded with a smile and a laugh. "No, but I wish."