Kelsey Morrison knew that she didn’t have a chance of making one of the three U.S. national volleyball teams.
Out of the 240 or so volleyball players from around the country that had traveled to Colorado Springs, Col., Kelsey was well aware of the fact that she couldn’t make the cut.
“I was really overwhelmed,” Morrison said. “I saw some really big girls there; girls who were up to six-foot-five. The girls from the Pac-12 and the top college teams were all huge. You could tell how elite they were by their confidence and by how they played on the court.”
The tryouts for the women’s national teams, which took place on Feb. 21-23, featured talent from all around the country. The competition was open to not only college students, but to athletes who have concluded their college eligibility and athletes born 1996 and prior, according to USA Volleyball.
The majority of the women who were there were college players, however. Many of them also played at higher levels of college athletics than Kelsey.
According to head coach Marci Sanders, Kelsey was one of only three Division III players who went to the tryouts.
“I actually heard about it in January right as the girls were getting back from break,” Sanders said. “I was proud of her. A lot of people could look at it with a ‘she doesn’t even play that much for us, why is she going to take that on?’ attitude, but a lot of people don’t even have the courage to take on something like that.”
Morrison, a sophomore marketing major, said she has been playing volleyball since she was 12, but didn’t start taking it very seriously until she was around 16. That’s when she met Ruth Nelson.
Kelsey, who plays as a defensive specialist for UTD, first heard of the opportunity to try out for the national team from Nelson, her longtime trainer and a former coach for one of the U.S. squads. She told Nelson that she wouldn’t stand a chance against that level of competition. Nelson, however, knew that trying out would be a great experience for her.
Morrison said she owes a lot of what she knows about volleyball to Nelson. She said she learned key principles like discipline, respect and realizing that volleyball is ultimately about making you a better person.
Nelson, who has been a volleyball coach for more than 40 years and has coached six Olympic athletes, has worked with and trained Kelsey since she was a sophomore in high school. She saw the potential in Kelsey to compete and work with athletes at a higher level.
“She needed to be able to compete against and see the work ethic of the best players in the country,” Nelson said. “She got to see how driven they are. A lot of times in college you’re not getting to see national team players. Putting yourself in that setting sets the stage for you to understand how hard you have to work to be the best you can be.”
Kelsey, who appeared in a total of 23 matches and 55 sets last season out of a 40-match season, also does more than just play the game. She has started to follow in her mentor’s footsteps by helping to coach young volleyball players.
“She’s mentoring and training an eight and under team,” Nelson said. “She’s expanding out and she’s a very good teacher, and I trust her. And there’s only about two or three kids that I trust. I have a lot of confidence in her.”
Along with volunteering to mentor the eight and under team, Kelsey works as an assistant coach for a local volleyball club team. Kelsey is also involved with several extracurricular activities. She is a member of the management honors program at UTD and is involved with Campus Outreach.
Kelsey wants to use what she has learned as a marketing major to help others and maybe even coach one day.
“I hope to start my own business and contribute something to society,” Morrison said. “If I have an established career at a marketing firm one day and I have some free time, then I would totally love to coach.”
Although she did have some reservations, Morrison ultimately didn’t let her lack of experience at a small school deter her from going to Colorado.
“I was nervous of what they would think if they knew I was D-III,” Morrison said. “I was nervous that they would look at me and think ‘Well, she doesn’t deserve to be here.’ But they didn’t think that at all. Everyone is there for themselves and to get better.”
Kelsey also learned that there wasn’t that much of a difference between the game she was playing on a Division III level and the game that her Division I competition was playing.
“We all went in with intensity. We all played our best. We all have skill that we’ve acquired from playing for many years. I was able to play up to their level,” Morrison said. “I discovered that the only real difference between D-I and D-III players was the height and hustle.”
That revelation may have been the biggest takeaway that Morrison took from her trip to Colorado.
“I saw how athletic those girls are and it forced me to step my game up and be disciplined,” Morrison said. “I really had no choice but to play up to my surroundings. With that, I learned to force myself to talk more on the court and be more confident and act like I was one of the greatest players there, like I deserved to be there. Once you act like it, you start to believe that you are.”
Sanders saw that and knew that Kelsey had the right take away from her experience in Colorado.
“She had the right mindset in that she wanted to go and compete against all different levels of talent,” Sanders said. “Going and doing these experiences does make her better and improves her volleyball IQ. It was always something that I personally wanted to do, but I never had the courage to try. She wasn’t afraid of failure, which is a reason that a lot of people don’t end up trying out.”
Morrison hopes that her experience in Colorado Springs cans encourage her teammates to participate in the future and hopes to try out again as well.
“When I told some of my teammates how it was, they told me that they were definitely trying out next year,” Morrison said. “If we had all the girls on the team go try out, we would play so much better. I’m definitely going to try to do it again next year.”
This trip was not a failure in Kelsey’s eyes, even if she didn’t make one of the three teams. Seeing that level of competition was her sole purpose in venturing to Colorado. Steel sharpens steel and the sharpest volleyball blades happened to be in the Centennial State.
“Knowing that I’ve had this experience, that I can play and keep up with women that play in D-I schools and have played their entire lives has shown me that I can obviously play with players on my level,” Morrison said. “I wanted to show my teammates that if I could keep up with those D-I players just with my drive and intensity, then we as a team can do the same if not more when facing bigger competition next fall.”