Junior Kelsey Julian and her Eagle teammates are working hard this off-season to bounce back after a down year
By Fedor Gaponenko, EWU Sports Information
Kelsey Julian has been an impact player since her freshman year on the Eastern Washington University volleyball team. But now, going into her junior year, Julian hopes to take another step into bettering herself and the team by becoming more of a complete player.
Last season, the Eagles were hit by injuries and stumbled to a 5-15 Big Sky Conference record and a 5-26 overall mark. Despite last year’s disappointing season, the 2011 graduate of Kennewick (Wash.) High School believes the team will bounce back in a big way this upcoming campaign.
After playing under a pair of head coaches last year, Julian and nine fellow returning letterwinners have used the month-long spring practice season to acclimate themselves with a new head coach. Returning is Wade Benson, who was the head coach at Eastern from 2000-06 and compiled an impressive record of 154-55 (.737) -- the best winning percentage of any coach in school history. Julian said the team is refocusing and disciplining themselves more than ever under the direction of the new coaching staff.
Although Julian is primarily an outside hitter and plays at the net, she is putting in the work to become a better back row and all-around player. Entering her junior season, she has started 43 of the 56 matches she has played, and has twice been selected to the Big Sky All-Academic team. She has 214 digs (1.18 per set), 98 digs (0.5) and 92 blocks (0.5) in her career.
A four-time scholar-athlete in high school, she was a two-year member of the National Honor Society and graduated in the top 10 percent of her class with a 3.918 cumulative grade point average. Her father, Greg, lettered for the Eastern football team in 1980.
What would you say is your biggest strength on the volleyball court?
“Blocking, definitely blocking. I play at the net, and as much as I like getting a big kill, blocking and stuffing it into somebody’s face is the best. I’m pretty vocal so I like to celebrate it too. Getting a big block is my big deal and I like to lead in that area.”
You have been contributing since your freshman year when you started 27 out of 28 matches. What are you doing to keep improving yourself?
“My role has changed since my freshman year when I was used more for energy and blocking. Now, coming into my junior year, I need to be more of an all-around player if I want to be on the court all the time and play in the back row. Right now, I’m focusing on my back row skills, digging, passing and being an all-around player -- before I was more of a dominantly front-row player.”
What do you love most about volleyball?
“I love the energy and competitiveness of it. It’s so up and down, there’s never a dull moment. I love the quick turnaround -- you can shank a pass and it looks awful and then at the next moment you get a huge kill. Also, I like the fact that you need everybody playing well together. You can’t have one person pass, set and hit a ball. The team aspect and the explosiveness make it really awesome.”
After a down year last season, what is the team’s mentality preparing for this new season?
“I think we’ve learned to kind of forget about last season -- it was kind of a freak thing. Now, we’re just working so hard and everyone has a mindset that we will be good. We have been practicing so much this spring that it’s getting to the point where we are so disciplined that we won’t have to think about it when the games start. We started from passing to hitting and we’re getting many reps in and becoming much more disciplined in every single area.”
How have the coaching changes affected the team?
“I think change is difficult in any sport, especially when you are close to the coaching staff. But after the disappointing season we had, we knew that this is what we needed to do. We needed to buck up and be ready for something different. Things are definitely different -- there are different personalities and more intensity -- but it’s what we need. Everyone on the team is confident in the new coaching staff. We trust them and we know that if we do what we’re told we will be good.”
What is the relationship like between the team?
“We’re like a family. There are different dynamics everywhere -- some of us are more intense and some are more quiet. All of us fit together to make one big unit. Off the court we can be goofy and all get along, and on the court we need to work together to be successful.”
Describe life as an athlete in the off-season?
“Right now it’s tough, you know, not much of a social life. We practice every afternoon and we have workouts in the morning. It’s a grind -- I would say we’re grinding. Every moment you have when you’re not practicing, you’re eating, sleeping or doing homework. You have to prioritize your time and know that it’s worth it to be successful.”
What are some of your goals for next season?
“When we leave the gym, we’re chanting ‘Big Sky Champs.’ We don’t have the mindset that, ‘oh, we’ll do decent this year since we were terrible last year.’ We have a mindset with very high goals of being the Big Sky Champs. For myself, I want to be the starting right side outside hitter and I want to be on the court all the time. But for the team, our biggest goal is Big Sky Champs. There is no doubt in our minds because we’re putting in so much work we know that we’ll deserve it.”
What is your favorite thing about EWU?
“I just love the community and the people here. In Cheney, everyone who is part of athletics supports everybody else, and everyone is down to earth. Winters can be brutal here, but other than that, when the sun comes out everyone is happy and having a good time. I wouldn’t change where I went to school for the world, because I love the students, faculty, athletes and all the support.”
Why did you decide to pursue a degree in education?
“My parents are both teachers and my mom has been a really huge inspiration. I want to make an impact in kids’ lives -- it’s more to me than the subject I want to teach, which I haven’t decided on yet. My mom is a special education teacher and I watch her be more than just a teacher -- she has an influence on the kids. She makes them want to come to school and learn and strive for a better future. Growing up, I watched her do that and more than anything that’s what I want to do too.”
What do you see as your role on the team next season?
“I think just being more of a vocal leader. We are working hard to come together as a team, and I think for me -- more than just my athletic ability -- I need to be more vocal and energetic to pull the team together when we’re in a rut.”
At Kennewick High School you were quite the scholar-athlete. How did you stay driven to work so hard?
“I was really involved in high school -- it was a good experience. I competed in track and field as a thrower, but volleyball was my main sport. I just really loved my high school so I wanted to be a good representative for them. Grades were always a big deal to me; it was never pushed on me. I just always wanted to be successful in both athletics and academics. I knew it would help me later on and I found that if I stayed busy it was easier to schedule my life and get stuff done.”
Who were some of your influences growing up playing volleyball?
“I’ve had really great people influencing me. Not necessarily from a volleyball standpoint, but my dad really influenced me. He was always a huge supporter and he played football here at Eastern. My uncle, who passed away from cancer last season, was my biggest fan ever. Professional influences like Misty May Treanor and Kerri Walsh were also big influences. Even though I may seem tall, I’m actually undersized for a Division I athlete. So watching Misty May be an Olympic athlete at 5-foot-8 and be a stud shows that if you have the heart and the drive you can be where you want to be.”