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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The journey from Germany

    UA middle blocker Kaylen Bannister swings at a ball during Wednesdays practice in McKale Center.  Bannister played high school volleyball in Germany before deciding shed like to play at the collegiate  level in the U.S.
    UA middle blocker Kaylen Bannister swings at a ball during Wednesday’s practice in McKale Center. Bannister played high school volleyball in Germany before deciding she’d like to play at the collegiate level in the U.S.

    A 6-foot-4 volleyball player who leaps like Kaylen Bannister is usually sought out early in the recruiting process by college coaches. A simple e-mail sent from a German military base, however, was all it took for Arizona’s coaching staff to jump at a golden opportunity.

    Bannister, who can jump to touch a little higher than 10 1/2 feet, was halfway through her senior year of high school in Frankfurt, Germany, when she decided she wanted to play collegiate volleyball.

    The letter was sent to multiple colleges across the country informing them of the middle blocker’s interest to play at the next level.

    UA’s then-assistant coach, Chris Gonzales, responded by asking her to send in a highlight video showcasing her talent – even if she did seem too good to be true at the time.

    Bannister cooperated, but Gonzales still didn’t believe it.

    “”The honest-to-God truth is when I looked at her video tape, I thought it was a joke,”” he said. “”I watched the first three or four minutes and there was some obvious athleticism. But then, I kept watching more – I normally don’t watch more – I had to though because she was terribly athletic.””

    Gonzales explained that he would normally only watch about five minutes of videos sent in because, in that time, he could tell if the players were worth investing in.

    He watched all 20 minutes of Bannister’s.

    “”Once I finished watching, I kind of sat back in my chair and I’m like, ‘This is a joke. Somebody’s sending us this videotape to be funny. She’s probably already committed,'”” Gonzales said. “”There was no way this kid hadn’t been recruited or hadn’t committed somewhere already.””

    Without knowing it, Bannister had the Arizona volleyball coaching staff in awe.

    The next step for the coaches was to set up a time and place to meet with the prospect, who had spent time living in America, Korea, and Germany.

    “”We didn’t have any scholarships available, but we just kind of wanted to see where it would lead us,”” said UA head coach Dave Rubio. “”So we ended up inviting her on a trip to come out based on the DVD alone.

    “”We felt that because of the discipline that you would encounter growing up in an Army family,”” he added, “”she would have the work ethic, commitment and the dedication that it would take to be successful.””

    This wasn’t going to be as simple as most visits, given Germany isn’t exactly a hop, skip and a jump away from Arizona.

    Nonetheless, Rubio gave the player the option to choose the course of action from there: he would either fly to Germany or he would fly her to Arizona.

    She ended up taking an official visit to the desert with her father, Francis, a retired lieutenant colonel and patient administrator in the Army.

    “”(My dad) came with me so I didn’t have to travel on my own to a place I hadn’t been before,”” Bannister said. “”And he wanted to help me make the right decision.””

    Gonzales said the Bannister family invested a lot in terms of their interest in Arizona.

    “”It’s a huge risk to come halfway across the world, and to give her that opportunity is a lot,”” Gonzales said of Francis. “”It’s always important (for the team) to have athletes who get support from home. Normally, athletes that get it have a much higher chance of succeeding. You need that support beyond your teammates and administration.””

    Gonzales said that the next pertinent thing he saw on their trip to Arizona was their excitability.

    The experience of meeting the squad and coaches, touring Arizona’s campus and checking out all of its athletic facilities blew them away.

    “”You could see their excitement,”” Gonzales said. “”I remember going into the weight room and (Kaylen’s dad) was just enamored. He was kind of in awe of what he was seeing for the first time.””

    It takes a lot of time to develop a volleyball player – more time than Bannister was given, to say the least. She started playing her sophomore year at Ramstein High School, where she was originally a center on the basketball team and fully intended on playing in college.

    In watching Bannister’s original DVD, Gonzales could pick out the areas that were going to be most difficult for her.

    “”One of the things I noticed about her (in the film) was that she was really stiff,”” Gonzales said. “”She was really rigid, and she didn’t know how to move. But she was able to perform at a pretty high level given where she was at because she had terrific physical attributes: big jumper, really physical and pretty strong.””

    Many collegiate volleyball players at her age start to plateau skill-wise, but Bannister’s late start put her in the advantageous position to continue on her journey to the peak.

    Bannister learned a lot during her redshirt freshman year last season, but Rubio said he still sees plenty of room for growth in the young player’s skills.

    “”Her attacking certainly has improved significantly and her blocking has gotten a lot better,”” Rubio said. “”But the hard thing about not having a real strong background in the game itself is that you don’t have a real aptitude for (it).””

    Despite her acknowledged room for improvement, Bannister carries the potential that many players don’t have, Rubio said.

    “”She’s very close to being a pretty significant player, even this year,”” Rubio said. “”She’s still very new and a (redshirt) freshman, but she’s (outside hitter) Whitney Dosty in a different position. She’s physically talented, but she’s two years behind Whitney in her development stages of volleyball.””

    Athleticism, height, talent – Bannister seems to have it all.

    When she was asked if she could go back in time and change one thing, she hesitated for a moment before answering.

    “”I would have started playing volleyball a lot sooner,”” Bannister said. “”I put a lot of my time into basketball because that’s what I thought I was going to play in college. I would have also looked at a lot more schools and started the whole recruiting (process) a lot sooner.””

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