While the rest of her team is spread across the globe playing volleyball, Kayla Banwarth is at home in California.
The 5’10 libero, or defensive specialist, for the women’s National Team chose to not play international club volleyball in favor of staying in the U.S. to train with national team coach Karch Kiraly, who is arguably the most decorated volleyball player.
“It’s nice to know I have a great coach I’m working with,” Banwarth said. “When you’re overseas, you’re not always as lucky with coaches you play for … I think being able to work with Karch every day, year round, has been really important for me to do.”
Banwarth didn’t make the national team at the 2012 London Olympic Games, but now she’s one of the team’s strongest players going into the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. After missing the London team, Banwarth put a lot of her focus on the weight room.
In 2013, she was named the Most Improved Indoor Volleyball Player of the Year by USA Volleyball, and she earned gold medals as the starting libero in back-to-back Pan American Cups in 2012 and 2013.
When she first decided against going overseas to play on a professional club last year, she and Kiraly weren’t sure if it was going to work. Competing internationally is one way most Olympians stay on top of things and train for competition.
But Kiraly said they’ve found other ways to help her improve her play in the U.S.
As libero, Banwarth is the defensive specialist on the team. That means she must be a good passer, and be quick and consistent.
Kiraly said the U.S. doesn’t have dominant hitters to push the ball past blockers, so the team depends on good ball control, which starts with Banwarth.
After having a strong 2015 season playing with the U.S. National Team Kiraly said staying in the U.S. to train turned out to be the right choice.
“[Playing internationally] is a life that’s not easy — they’re out of their own country for at least seven months, if not more, each year to play the sport they love,” Kiraly said. “We’ve figured out a way to do some things here that helped her continue to develop her game.”
She’s been training with Kiraly since the 2015 season, and now she’s an instrumental part of the team.
“I kept working hard, and after the 2012 Olympics, I really looked at it like we hit the refresh button, and it was kind of my turn to get my foot in the door,” she said. “I kept working hard; I kept getting better—I’m still getting better. I try to contribute in any way I can, and it worked out.”
Banwarth trains in the weight room four days a week for one-to-two hours at a time. This helps her become more powerful and quick on her feet while becoming stronger all around.
Although she has to train alone—which can sometimes make it difficult stay motivated—Banwarth said she keeps herself going by remembering her goals.
“It’s a matter of how bad do you want it?” Banwarth said. “If you want it bad enough, you’ll be here putting in the hours and the extra reps. You’ll do whatever it takes.”