Karen Klein plays Right Side for the women's volleyball team at Quinnipiac College where her potent blocking skills have lent themselves to a number of successes for the close-knit team.
Klein credits the team's success with teamwork. "No one position is more important than another; with a weak link anyplace you can fall apart," commented Klein.
Normally 12 players comprise a team with six on the court at one time, but Klein's team had a unique composition due to circumstances such as injury.
Klein commented that in a situation like this the team must work together to pick each other up during the tough parts of the season.
New Haven University is the closest thing to a rival the Quinnipiac Women's Volleyball Team has and in four tough-fought matches the Quinnipiac team came up on the short end of the stick.
However, these tough defeats led to the most outstanding game of the season said Klein. The Quinnipiac team fought a tough match in their fifth and final game against New Haven and ended their opponent's 109 game home win streak with a victory of their own.
This game was also from where Klein's self-described greatest accomplishment of the season came. Last year against New Haven, Klein delivered, in her own opinion, a sub par performance; however this time Klein's tough play earned her the Most Valuable Player award at the New Haven tournament.
It was an emotional victory for Quinnipiac coach Ann Marie Bahankta who is a New Haven alumnus according to Klein. Bahankta congratulated her team individually on their great accomplishment.
Klein described her coach as strict but fun. The team practices three to four hours a day, six out of seven days a week during the season and once or twice a week in the off season.
Even with all the time put into practicing the coach insists that the students spend time on their college courses. It is mandatory at Quinnipiac College for freshman student athletes to study for an hour six times a week in what is known as "power hours."
Among other practices, the coach teaches the players the art of visualization.
According to Klein the team spends 15 minutes before the game thinking about the game to come and picturing executing the perfect pass, the perfect block, the perfect serve; and most of all visualizing making no mistakes.
The perfect block for Klein is one that drops to the floor after she has jumped into the air and blocked the ball with her hands. Having strengthened her skills blocking, Klein intends to work on her court communication skills.
Klein attests to the success of visualization explaining that if she or the other players were not mentally prepared then their performance would not be up to snuff.
Bahankta is always there for her players according to Klein and more than willing to help them with their studies. "She is like one of the girls," commented Klein.
And the girls, five of whom are juniors, are like a family said Klein sharing in activities as mundane as eating and as exciting as kareoke.
The amount of time the girls spend together can be at times stressful admitted Klein, however she said that they leave their personal lives off the court.
This upcoming spring break the team will head for Barbados, with money acquired through fund raising, to teach clinics and compete against the National team in a country where volleyball is huge.
Basically the players will teach the students at the clinics basic skills, then demonstrate the skills to the students and finally teach them how to do it by walking them through the process step by step.
Klein explained that the best part about teaching is witnessing the progression of the pupil. She has had experience as a teacher in the past working with her sister Lynn, and hopes to be a coach when she gets older.
This court experienced team will have to make adjustments when they hit the beaches of Barbados where the indigenous teams hone their skills.
The sun, the wind and the sand are all considerations explained Klein, as well as a few alterations in the rules. Klein is not completely inexperienced at the beach version of her sport, having played in a beach tournament with her sister, Lynn.
Klein said she is most looking forward to experiencing a culture that holds volleyball in such high esteem as well as simply enjoying the sights and sounds of Barbados.
Admittedly Quinnipiac is the underdog in this competition, but Klein looks forward to the challenge. More challenges await this team when Quinnipiac, which is currently in the NE 10 Conference, a Division II conference, moves to the Division I NEC next year.
"It will give us a chance to play against more competitive teams," commented Klein on the move up in conference, and result in better play by her team. She added that her team has already proved their ability to play at a higher level by beating Division I Rider College this past season.
Klein credits volleyball with improving her confidence, teaching her time management, improving her people skills, refining her problem solving skills and introducing her to many new friends. She encourages new students to pursue athletic interests for these same reasons.
And none of this would be possible without the support of her family who travels an hour and a half to watch every one of her home games. "They are always there for me," Klein said.
With the support of her family as well as her team, Klein prepares to meet future challenges, not resting on the laurels of her past successes, but working even harder towards even greater achievements in her sport and beyond.