by Kyle Koso
KANSAS CITY, MO -- Any volleyball player will tell you -- be prepared for the unexpected.
So when the athletes attending College Camp Friday (part of the Triple Crown NIT event at the Kansas City Convention Center) were being peppered with hard, heavy shots and asked to perform demanding tasks, they all jumped into the moment without reservation.
No doubt it helped that the people behind those drills were some of the top NCAA college coaches on the map, with one session helmed by Baylor's Ryan McGuyre (the 2019 AVCA coach of the year) along with the sharp minds of Leah Johnson (Illinois State), David Rehr (Houston) and Ben Lee (Loyola Marymount assistant). Setters and liberos were the focal point for this particular session, with hustle and tempo marking every move on the two courts in use.
"It's just fresh for me. Whenever you can coach in a different zone, it keeps you sharp. When you get to work with a younger group of athletes, how to communicate, you re-think what's the most important part," said McGuyre, who guided the Bears to the NCAA semifinals last season. "For me, it's sharing the joy, sharing energy, and this is a great arena to show we love what we do. I hope they learned something and are encouraged."
In that hunt for joy, McGuyre put the setters into some tricky situations -- quick bursts on the floor, doing 180-degree and 360-degree turns before a set, and even hitting the ground to the knees and rising again before the next touch on the ball.
"You want to be challenged, and volleyball will always be fun if you are learning," he said. "Your job as a coach is to take them to places they can't get there on their own. I like to do something they can't do, and one of those kids will go home and do that every day."
One of the setters soaking it up was junior Kelsi Wingo, who plays on the Houston Stellar 16's and who showed an accurate touch for all 90 minutes. A hitter when she started playing, Wingo switched to setter after a coach pounced on the fact she had some height, and was left-handed.
"This was to get a little more exposure; every little bit helps, and since we had to travel all the way from Texas, I wanted to get on the court and get comfortable," she said. "It's all about confidence, so I wanted to come out here, talk to some coaches and make myself feel confident. Hopefully, at the end of this, we'll have even more coaches out there watching us.
"I did feel like there was a good amount of one-on-one, and the coaches did a good job talking to me personally and really helping me with my techniques. Even focusing on the little things that can really make a difference with setting."
Johnson spent her 90 minutes coaching and compelling the liberos to play with a blend of assertiveness and solid fundamentals. Being on the back line with kill shots driving straight into you becomes a mental challenge as much as a physical one.
"I like the idea of this high-level competitive tournament, and you have athletes who are driven. If they are coming to get extra touches before a three-day tournament, these are the kind of athletes you know will compete and work hard in your gym," said Johnson, who was working College Camp Friday for the first time. "It's an opportunity to give back, work with high-achieving young women and play some volleyball.
"It's cyclical - you have to have the right mindset to have the discipline to learn the technique. That technique allows you to be prepared to take the risk in a match. It all cycles back and forth, and the minute you learn one thing you have to advance your game to the next. You are in a constant state of growth, and if you can stay in that state and maintain your confidence, you're a pretty elite player."
There were 13 separate College Camps at the Convention Center on Friday, along with assorted seminars, clinics and both a Youth Skill Clinic and an Unsigned Senior/Junior workout, the latter which is watched closely by dozens college coaches.