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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Fun and Games: Light-hearted Karst hits hard

Gordon Bates
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat Arizona Womens Volleyball vs Stanford at McKale Center on Friday, October 21 2011

If you go out on Halloween and see a 6-foot-5 blonde dressed as a strawberry, that’s Courtney Karst. Actually she’s only 6-foot-1, but with her four-inch heels she’s as tall as basketball guard Brendon Lavender.

“I’m going to be a strawberry,” Karst said, “Madi (Kingdon) is going to be a banana, Cursty (Jackson) is going to be a watermelon and Candace (Nicholson) is going to be a pineapple. If you get to know us, we’re really weird.”

Some of Karst’s other self-proclaimed oddities include her obsession with the “Transformers” trilogy and her emotional attachment to Disney movies. To this day, she still cries when Mufasa dies in “The Lion King,” she said.

But catch Karst on the volleyball court and you would never know she harbors a soft spot for Disney movies. She plays with intensity, determination and an insatiable hunger to win.

“I just love the winning,” Karst said. “When I first started playing, I hated volleyball because I was so bad. But I love it because I’m good at it, and it’s kind of a way to get away from the stressors I have in my life — for me it’s that one thing I can go to and forget about it all, because I have to focus on volleyball.”

The mark of a champion

In Arizona’s loss to No. 2 California last Saturday, Karst struggled at the beginning of the game, but didn’t give up, leaving it all on the court — it was head coach Dave Rubio’s favorite part of the match.

“The only silver lining to me was that Courtney really struggled today, and I really got on her early,” Rubio said after the game on Saturday. “I thought she made a terrific turnaround. I love the fact that she kept grinding, didn’t let herself fall apart and give up. To me, that’s the mark of a champion.”

Rubio first noticed Karst’s talent when she was 16 years old, he said.

“I liked her speed, how quick she was off the ground and loved the arm swing,” Rubio said.

For incentive purposes, Rubio was delighted to hear Karst’s grandparents lived in Tucson. He said didn’t think she would have come here otherwise.

While that was a motivating factor for Karst, she also liked the promise of a new family.

“I liked how McKale is one big family,” said Karst, who is originally from Colorado. “When I came on my visit, we went to a gymnastics meet … there were a bunch of other athletes supporting each other. It’s nice to have all these other athletes to relate to.”

Finishing strong

Volleyball wasn’t always Karst’s primary focus.

“I would always bring home these packets that you get in elementary school that had cheerleading and karate on them, and I really wanted to be a cheerleader,” Karst said. “Even though I was the tallest girl in my school, I wanted to be a cheerleader so bad, because I liked their little outfits.”

Karst started playing recreational volleyball in the third grade. The sport didn’t come naturally to her, but it was a sport that welcomed her height.

“When I was in rec volleyball, I wasn’t very good,” Karst said. “I first started playing club and I was awful compared to some of the other girls on my team.”

First a middle blocker, Karst progressively improved and worked her way up to a starting position. As she developed on the club circuit, she found her signature positions — opposite and outside.

Karst is now nearing the end of her final season as a Wildcat. She’s a psychology major with a sports management minor who plans to go back to Colorado to coach after graduation. That is, if she doesn’t play overseas in Puerto Rico first, she said.

“I’ve really been pleased with how she’s developed, how serious she is and how she approaches the game,” Rubio said. “I couldn’t be happier with how she’s finishing out her career. She’s been having a fantastic year. She’s our best back row attacker, she can play right and she can play left. She’s a terrific blocker and has a great jump topspin serve.”

With her attacking and serving skills, Karst has scored 203 kills this season, and currently leads the team in serving with 16 aces. She has also recorded 66 digs and has led the team in kills in its last three matches.

“Her biggest change for me has been her mental and emotional approach to the game,” Rubio said. “She’s more mature and (her mentality is) significantly better than it had been in the past. She’s always had the talent, but now she plays with such purpose, conviction and intelligence.”

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