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April 3, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST
“STP.” They put it on bracelets.
They used the acronym often. The underdogs held onto it on game days. They really did have “something to prove.” And when the MU volleyball team took the SEC championship with an undefeated season, they proved themselves. But now there’s a new goal in sight: Team U.S.A.
Carly Kan, Whitney Little, Sarah Meister and Emily Wilson competed in the U.S. Women’s National Team Open Tryouts against some of the best student athletes in the country in February. Kan and Wilson were selected for the collegiate national team’s tours of China and Europe, respectively.
Vox sat down with the four players for a behind-the-court look at what they can’t live without before a game, how they prepare for a match and their methods for getting luck on their side.
Photos courtesy of Mizzou Athletics
To get pumped up for a game, I always listen to _____
Kan: Hoodie Allen.
Meister: “Timber” by Kesha because it’s my anthem.
Wilson: Rap music in general. Country is my thing, but rap pumps me up for a game.
My lucky charm is _____
Kan: I actually don’t have one.
Little: I always side braid my hair with the same three bobby pins and the same blue hair tie.
Meister: I always have to drink Starbucks before a game.
I can’t go on long bus rides without _____
Kan: Headphones. I’m screwed without them.
Little: My pillow.
Meister: My Beats (headphones). I also sing to the team on the bus.
Wilson: My headphones.
My pre-game ritual is_____
Little: I always wrap my left foot. My freshman year, it hurt a little, so I had to wrap it. Our whole team and coaches are really superstitious, so they told me I had to always wrap my left foot.
Meister: I talk to myself in the mirror. I have to tell myself, ‘Play with heart. Play with
passion. No regrets.’
Wilson: After working with (our sports psychologist Scotta Morton), we talked about saying five affirming things about yourself before you play. I do that.
My favorite thing about America is _____
Kan: The food.
Wilson: Red, white and blue.
If I played in a fundraising volleyball game, the charity would be _____
Kan: The Hawaii Foodbank.
Little: Something with disabled children.
Meister: People Water. They build wells in different locations around the world.
Wilson: The Food Bank.
If I were in the Olympics, I’d want it to take place in _____
Kan: New Zealand.
If you could play for any team, which would it be and why?
Little: U.S.A. That’s the dream, to go to the Olympics. I’ve wanted that since I was little. If I got the opportunity, I’d take it.
Meister: It would have to be Missouri Volleyball. But playing with U.S.A. on your back, that’d be pretty awesome.
How did you get into volleyball?
Kan: I started playing when I was 6. I was just a little kid. I was playing for fun and never thought I’d play in college.
Little: My best friend, who now plays for Texas State, started playing. Of course I had to do whatever she did, so I started playing, too.
Meister: I started my freshman year of high school. I didn’t know I’d be good enough to play in college. But my junior year is when I started getting looks. I worked hard. I wanted it more than anything. Junior year, I committed to Mizzou.
Wilson: I started playing in the third grade at the YMCA. I was playing a lot of sports. When I started figuring out that I wanted to play in college, I was 15.
What has been your proudest volleyball moment?
Kan: I have to go with SEC champions. That was the best moment. It was kind of amazing. As a freshman, I was just hoping to get some playing time, but I saw what a team could do. We grew as a team and did the impossible.
Little: I have a couple of proudest moments. One was not at Mizzou. My club team won the National Open. I have a big championship ring and everything. It’s a big deal. It’s like the NCAA tournament of club. The other was beating Florida. I loved it when they’d announce your name, and they’d say, “Gator bait!” Boom, we beat you.
Wilson: Just the entire season in general. Sweeping Florida at Florida, that was the biggest crowd we had ever played in front of. The student section was yelling at us. We got booed. It was so great that we beat them.
What was going through your mind during the National Team tryouts?
Kan: I’m still pretty young, so I was just like, “Let’s do this.” I just tried to have fun. I thought, “If you don’t make it, it’s okay. If you do, great.” It was so fun to play with some of the best players in the country.
Little: I was just really happy to be there. I was supposed to go last year, but we got snowed in. It was really fun.
Meister: I was a little nervous, but at the same time, I was like, “I’ve got nothing to lose.” Michael Phelps was there. It was an honor.
What keeps you going when you or your team is struggling?
Kan: Just being a part of the team. I feel like we can look to each other for help, and we have. I might be in a rut, and someone will say the right thing to me. I’ll say, “You’re right.” You’ve got to keep going.
Meister: The idea that there’s six people on the court. We’re all working for one another. I’m never going to give up for them, not even for myself, for what we’ve done. We come together to stay focused, to refocus.
Carly and Whitney, how did you feel when you found out you were selected for the U.S.A. Volleyball Collegiate National Team Tours of China and Europe, respectively?
Kan: I woke up and thought I should check my email for some strange reason. I never check my email in the morning. I was shocked; I didn’t think I’d get anything. I had to read it like ten times and didn’t believe it for the rest of the day.
Little: I was excited. It was nice to get something.
Tell us about the season and what it meant to you.
Kan: It was an unreal first year. Freshmen don’t often come into an undefeated year. I am so grateful to be a part of something so special. You just want it to keep going.
Meister: This season was exceptional; I couldn’t say anything better. At the beginning of the season, we set goals. We said we wanted to win the SEC. I don’t think even we believed it at the time, not until we beat Florida at their home. We were the underdogs and had something to prove.
Wilson: The team chemistry was great. I’ve been on a lot of teams with good chemistry, but nothing like this. We were a family. I don’t think a lot of people knew that. They might have seen it. That chemistry is going to be the measure of success.