This week, The California Aggie spoke over the phone with Kaylin Squyres, a driven outside-hitter and English major from Rocklin, Calif. who looks forward to rocking the volleyball world. In her final year with the Aggies, Squyres led the conference in kills and non-libero digs. All of her work this season and last year brought her national recognition and success. Recently, the U.S. Women’s National Team invited Squyres to tryouts at the Olympic Training Center. Although the tryouts hosted 220 athletes, Squyres was one of only six athletes specifically invited to the tryouts.
When did you start playing volleyball?
I started playing volleyball in the seventh grade. I tried out for my middle school team and I made it, and then I went on to play club right after that.
What attracted you to the sport — why did you want to try out for volleyball specifically?
I had always been told, “Oh you’re so tall, you should definitely get into that sport!” And one of my friends had started to develop an interest; she started trying out for the team, so I decided it was a good thing to do. I just started middle school in the seventh grade, and had tryouts at the very beginning of school, so it sounded like it would be a really good thing to get into. It ended up being a great thing to get into!
So now, more recently with your college and high school careers, what would you say has been the key to your personal success?
I think I am really driven to push myself to achieve as much as I possibly can. I think that from the very moment that I started playing volleyball in some degree, I had always hoped that the next step is to get a scholarship for playing in college. That was a little bit further off than I had realized, but it ended up happening. So that was definitely a big point in my career, envisioning myself in the future and saying, “Okay, what is it going to take to get to that next step?” So, when I was in the seventh grade, [I wanted] to continue with that and play at one of the highest levels that you can play at in this sport. I definitely attribute success to having big goals, and a willingness to achieve and do what it takes to achieve those goals.
Were you personally self-motivated, or did you have a lot of your friends and your family members pushing you to succeed?
I would say I’m very self-motivated. When I started playing power club, which [involves] traveling all over the state and a bit around the country, [my parents] went to the first parents meeting and found out that the goal of every parent on that team was for their daughter to have a scholarship. That was never necessarily their goal for me, it was just, “Kaylin enjoys this sport, she loves playing volleyball, so we’ll let her go ahead and continue playing at this level that she made on the team.” So they had no expectations of going and getting a scholarship; that’s the reason [people in general] are playing this sport.
I was entirely motivated by myself. I made my own highlight film, I talked to coaches myself. My parents were very supportive, but they weren’t very involved in that process.
Could you talk to me a little about how they were supportive? Were they enabling you to do everything that you wanted, or was it something else?
Yeah, they were definitely enabling. Once I had decided that this was my goal, I wanted to make sure that I could play in college, [and] they kept continuing to support me, both financially and with moral support in volleyball. They still do that to this day. When I tell them whatever I’m trying to do they are like, “Great! You can do it!” They are always there on the sidelines, bringing it in whatever way I ask them to. It’s a really good dynamic. I think that because they haven’t pushed me to do anything that I didn’t want to, I was able to have this interest for so long, instead of the interest dying out because it had been pushed on me so hard. I think it was a really good balance.
Talking about your collegiate experience here, when I imagine it became less of your parents helping you and more of your team and your coaches and that sort of thing, could you talk a little bit about that amount of work, and that dynamic and relationships that you’ve built throughout your college career?
Playing, going through sports, is definitely something that you have to be tough for, physically, mentally and emotionally. Having our coach, Dan Conners, come in when I was a junior, that was something that was a big question mark right before he came in. Like, is he going to invest the time in me? Since I’m a junior now, he probably wants to develop his own program and do things his way. I wasn’t sure how that was [going on] in his mind. But it ended up being a really great change for our program. Dan really helped develop a culture of support and sort of a familial structure. So that was a great change to our team.
It made everyone a lot closer, I think. He really encouraged people to be the best person that they could be, and part of that was being the best teammate that you could be. Coaches say that all the time, but I think he really emphasized that. Whoever is on the court, everyone else should be supporting them. If you have an issue with someone or something that is going on, you address it. He gave us the time to do that, instead of just preaching it and not really following through. I think that was a great part of the way our team operated.
In terms of the girls, when you are around someone, around a group of people so much, it can be tiring. There are times when people get on each other’s nerves and everything, but it also creates this bond that I don’t think you can have with anyone else. You go through great wins, you go through bad losses, you go through hard times in practices, hard times emotionally when there are issues on the team. I think that playing college sports is such a gift, because you have that kind of relationship with someone that you really don’t have with many other people.
I’m glad you’ve gotten to experience that since it seems like you’ve personally grown a lot and shown that it’s helped you.
To talk about last year, transitioning from junior to senior year, you had a stellar last season. I just want to know, did you expect this outcome? To be invited to continue on with volleyball, even though you said you had some question marks about whether or not you were going to be played or given opportunities.
I had a really successful junior year and I developed a really good relationship with Dan. I think going into senior year, I had expectations that I would be a big role on the team, and that I would be getting a lot of swings in matches and all. I don’t think I expected that I would be invited to try out for the National Team, which was the pinnacle of my career so far. Getting the opportunity to compete at that level, regardless of the outcome, the opportunity to compete for a spot even, was just such a blessing. I’m really grateful for that.
I take it you haven’t heard back from them yet?
I have not heard back from them yet. I think they will be reaching out to people in March, so sometime this month.
I know that you planned initially on going to law school here at UC Davis. Has this non-expectation of continuing on with volleyball changed your five-year plan or trajectory in your life?
I wasn’t sure early in my college career if I would still be interested in playing or not, because there are a lot of opportunities to play professionally overseas, primarily in Europe. I wasn’t sure if that was something I’d be interested in early on in my career because I thought I might have burnt out by this time. But, considering how my junior year and senior year went, I am still totally in love with this sport, and had actually planned, before the National Tryouts, on trying to play overseas professionally.
I think that it is still on my radar; I want to continue this sport. I’m not quite done, I have a little bit more to give, and I want to see where I can end up. That was my plan, and still is my plan. I hope to continue, whatever happens with the national team. I entered that with not a whole lot of expectations, but with excitement and gratitude that I could be there.
I plan on continuing my volleyball career, either way, for some time. Then I do hope to go to law school after that.
Have you made any concrete plans for playing overseas?
I do have contacts. Right now I’m in the middle of working with an agent who is in the United States. I’ve been in some very brief contact with some managers overseas. I’m in the very early stages of that process, but it’s looking like something will be able to work out. I’ve been contacted by a few teams, who are wanting me to sign right now.
They’re trying to get me to take the last quarter of my academic career off, and come back to it later. But that is something that I’m not interested in, I want to make sure I finish my degree and then go play volleyball.
I’m in the early stages of figuring that out, and I hope that I will be somewhere abroad, probably in the fall.
Aaron Sellers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org