Volleyball's Kristen Kathan - Looking Up

Sept. 11, 2009

BERKELEY - This story was featured in the Cal Football Kickoff Game Day Magazine Sept. 5, 2009

For most of her volleyball career, California senior libero Kristen Kathan has looked up at her competition. And for most of her volleyball career, her competition has looked down on her.

But Kathan, measuring in at 5-6, has proved time and again that inside her small frame is a huge desire and drive to succeed. It was her father, Tom, who taught her that such a attitude to win is what true athletes bring to their team and what makes them most successful.

For Kathan, volleyball started getting serious at age 14. Her size aside, Kathan's tenacity on the hardwood made a big impact. During a car ride home from one of her club practices that year, her father began a serious discussion about her future. He laid out goals for her entire athletic career, through high school and into college. He even set an ultimate goal for her to achieve: work hard and earn a scholarship at one of the top programs in the country, Cal.

'I looked at him like he was crazy,' Kathan said. 'I didn't believe I could play at Cal. But after my junior year in high school, I realized the level that I was playing at and I started to believe what he was saying.'

Just getting to that point of realization proved to be an experience in itself. Kathan attended Campolindo High School in nearby Moraga, Calif., which boasted a volleyball program that had won three North Coast Section championships in the past six years, compiling a 192-50 record during that span.

When she stepped on the Campolindo campus, it became apparent that the road to fulfilling her father's bold statement was going to be a long one, starting with freshman-year tryouts. Kathan set out to show that her lofty ambitions were not naïve, but carefully calculated and attainable.

There was one position open for an outside hitter, where she had played with her club team, but coaches and teammates had already pinpointed her as a libero or defensive specialist because of her height. Kathan refused to let their expectations dictate her results. She tried out as an outside hitter and made the varsity team as a freshman.

'If it's not what I really want, or what I expect of myself, I'm not going to let someone else draw the line for me,' Kathan said. 'In everyone, there has to be a level of competitive drive. If I'm competing for something, I want to win. My dad knew how to fuel that in me in every instance that I came up against.'

It was that drive that would help her lead Campolindo to four North Coast Section titles. Going into her senior year, Golden Bear head coach Rich Feller offered her a chance to walk on at Cal.

It was a position Kathan had been in before. She was an atypical recruit playing an unorthodox position trying to make the cut with one of the best teams in their respective divisions. This did not deter her. She made it her goal to buckle down and out work her competition, hustling her way onto the team.

Unlike in high school, Kathan was willing to relent on some of her more stubborn points. She knew that there was little chance of making an impact as an outside hitter at her stature. The average height for that position was 6-2. She felt her only chance at making the team was to make a change on the court.

She abandoned the outside for a defensive specialist's jersey. It took a lot of work to master the position. Her freshman year at Cal, she was the first one in the gym and the last one out, spending time before and after practice working on making the change.

'I knew that [defense] was the best way I could contribute,' she said. 'I still use my speed, my athleticism, my aggression, just in the back row.'

When the Bears reached the third round of the postseason in 2006, Kathan topped the depth chart at libero/defensive specialist. Following Cal's exit from the tournament, each member of the team had a personal meeting with Feller. It was during that meeting that Kathan was awarded her scholarship.

Since then, she has led the team in digs and been instrumental to their success. Cal reached the national semifinals in 2007 and the regional final in 2008. Kathan has been named the senior captain for the 2009 campaign

Many predictions have the Bears making another run at a national championship, and if they do, Kathan will then hopefully be able to look down on the volleyball world.

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