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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Half the world away

    Arizona middle blocker Kaylen Bannister rocks back to swat a ball in an October practice in McKale Center. Bannister, who redshirted last season as a freshman, spent much of her upbringing in Europe because of her fathers duties in the United States Army.
    Arizona middle blocker Kaylen Bannister rocks back to swat a ball in an October practice in McKale Center. Bannister, who redshirted last season as a freshman, spent much of her upbringing in Europe because of her father’s duties in the United States Army.

    For most athletes, getting a chance to play a sport for a Division I university is a dream. Typically, it takes lots of hard work and dedication just to get the attention needed to have recruiters knocking at your door. But for one Arizona athlete, that already difficult task proved to be more difficult than normal.

    Kaylen Bannister, a redshirt freshman on the Arizona volleyball team, grew up in a military family. She lived all over Europe since the second grade because that’s where her father, Lt. Col. Frank Bannister of the United States Army, found himself stationed.

    Bannister attended many all-military schools during her time in Europe, and eventually landed at Ramstein High School in Frankfurt, Germany. At 6-foot-4, Bannister’s height made her quite tuned for the game of basketball and it actually was not until her sophomore year of high school that she even hit the volleyball court. At the suggestion of one of her teachers, Bannister picked up the sport and there was no looking back from there.

    Playing in Europe made it difficult for anyone to notice her.

    “”One that was frustrating was that the sports aren’t really good in Germany,”” Bannister said. “”There are no club teams so everyone (in the U.S.) played on them and I had never played on one.””

    Since much of the collegiate recruiting in the states happens on the club circuit, Bannister was already at a disadvantage, though her high school coach believed she was a D-I talent. Despite being a second team All-European athlete her senior year, the fact that she lived across an ocean continued to make it difficult for her to get the attention she deserved.

    So a family friend of the Bannisters’, Frank Spatt, offered to put together a recruiting video for her to send back to some colleges in the states. Bannister accompanied this with her own personal e-mail to coaches informing them of her desire to come play for their teams.

    Bannister had a friend who was attending the UA at the time, and said she would love the campus. Bannister had also heard good things about the Arizona program and decided to give it a shot. The assistant coach at the time, Chris Gonzales, was impressed with her video and after sharing it with UA head coach Dave Rubio so they invited her down for a recruiting visit.

    The visit was one of only two that Bannister took to the states. She was not impressed with her visit to Fresno State and was informed by Oregon that she would only be able to walk-on, so she signed with the Wildcats and redshirted her freshman season as she worked on learning as much as she could about volleyball.

    “”I didn’t know a lot about the game,”” she said. “”I mean I could hit the ball hard and block because I was tall and athletic, but learning about the game and what to do in the right situation is what I needed to work on.””

    Rubio knew he was getting an athlete with a lot of raw talent and that is what made it worthwhile.

    “”We knew it was going to take her some time to develop into the kind of player we think she’s capable of turning into,”” he said. “”The skills and learning how to play the game are the things that she lacks and is currently learning in the job training. We feel like she’s making some good strides and with time will be a full-time player for us.””

    After sitting out the fall semester, Rubio threw Bannister right into the middle of the rotation during the ongoing spring tournament season, feeling that the only way she will get where the team needs her to be is to give her that competition.

    While Rubio explained that on the court Bannister is a relatively quiet person, others beg to differ about her antics off the court.

    “”Kaylen is a character and probably the funniest person I know,”” said fellow freshman athlete and friend Ify Ibekwe. “”She is the kind of person to make fun of you, laugh and then walk away.””

    Ibekwe, a forward on the UA women’s basketball team, explained that it is all in good fun, however, and Bannister is always happy and trying to make people laugh, even if it occasionally hurts their feelings.

    Bannister is still undecided as far as her major career goals, but said she is interested in eventually becoming a social worker or working in public health or education. When asked if she hoped to have a career in volleyball when all is said and done, Bannister remained optimistic about the possibility.

    “”The best thing would be to go play in Europe and play in Italy,”” she said. “”That would be awesome, to not have to work and just play volleyball.””

    While she still has four years to go until that decision becomes relevant, it seems clear from her coaches’ optimism and from her own dedication to getting what she wants, nothing is out of reach for this talented young athlete.

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