COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (March 29, 2016) – Kayla Banwarth (Dubuque, Iowa), the starting U.S. Women’s National Team libero who has helped Team USA to several gold medals in the past three-plus seasons, has continued to improve her volleyball skills in a rather unique way this winter as she does not have an overseas professional contract like the rest of her U.S. Women’s National Team members.
For the second consecutive season, Banwarth elected to stay in Southern California where the U.S. Women train in Anaheim. She has been able to train at the American Sports Centers and get the same quality reps in as if being overseas.
“I knew that I was planning to stay in California during the winter,” Banwarth said. “I did the same thing last year and I really saw a benefit. However, with everyone else overseas, my training schedule isn't nearly as busy. I get about an hour and a half on the court and an hour and a half in the weight room but the rest of the day I'm free.”
Unlike the 2014-15 season where she essentially trained on her own with the coaching staff and had lots of free time on her hands, Banwarth bounced an idea off Pepperdine Men’s Volleyball Assistant Coach David Hunt in what initially was a joke and made it a reality to broaden her winter time training. At the time, Hunt was also serving as a consultant coach with the U.S. Women’s National Team and knew what Banwarth had to offer.
“I remember last winter I was so bored in the afternoons and didn't know what to do with my free time,” Banwarth said. “So, at first I joked with David Hunt that I was going to be their volunteer assistant (at Pepperdine). Then it occurred to me that it wasn't a bad idea. I was interested in learning more about coaching and knew I would have a bunch of free time. So, I called (Pepperdine men’s head coach) Marv Dunphy and asked if I could help out.”
And so her coaching career started in a unique situation as a volunteer with the Pepperdine men’s team. Through March 26, the sixth-ranked Waves are 12-7 overall and 11-7 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Pepperdine has won four of its last five matches, including a split against then No. 1 BYU in Utah.
Banwarth has not been a figurehead volunteer coach with the Pepperdine program. She has been entrusted with key roles in developing the Waves offense and defense.
“Marv doesn't assign his coaches to positions,” Banwarth said. “All the coaches help all the players. So, being a libero, I mostly work with the passers and defense. During matches, I track the opponents’ servers.”
Dunphy feels Banwarth has been a valuable addition to his staff this season.
“It has been great having Kayla as part of our staff,” Dunphy said. “She sees the game well and adds valuable insights to all aspects of our training.”
Coming from the women’s game into the men’s game has not always been straightforward for Banwarth in her approach to teaching skills. She has needed a crash course on adapting to the men’s game while also transferring her knowledge of the game to the Waves.
“The main challenge is that the guy’s game is played differently than the women's game,” Banwarth said. “For example, when receiving a float serve, a lot of guys elect to stand very shallow in the court and take the ball overhead. The women don't do that. Also, there is a lot more quick/bic in the offense. I've had to learn more about how the men play the game.”
Banwarth says the dual life of individual training in preparation for the Olympic Games and assisting with the Pepperdine men’s volleyball team is all worth the time and effort.
“I am very interested in coaching when I'm done playing,” Banwarth said. “But just because you were a good player doesn't mean you'll be a good coach. So, I wanted to take this opportunity to learn more about coaching, and who better to learn from than coaching legend, Marv Dunphy.”
Banwarth sees that coaching at Pepperdine has given her new ways to look at her own game.
“I am a believer that if you watch other players play and if you coach, whether it be a camp or a club team, than by just observing you can improve your own game,” Banwarth said. “I think that by coaching, I've become more mindful of how I play the game, both technically and strategically.”
Banwarth has also endured a challenge that has been more under the radar for most people to see. To accommodate her dual training schedules – her personalized training schedule in Anaheim and at Pepperdine up the coast 55 miles in Malibu – she gets up early to avoid the troublesome Los Angeles traffic for Pepperdine’s morning workouts and spends nearly 2.5 hours a day commuting back-and-forth.
“Now that I've taken on this coaching role, my spring schedule has become more jam packed,” Banwarth said. “I normally wake up around 4:30 a.m. and leave my house around 5 a.m. to drive up to Malibu. Pepperdine practices from about 10 a.m. to 12:30 or 1 p.m. Then I get back in the car and drive to Anaheim to get in a lift and court session. I get done at the gym around 5:30 p.m. Then it's home for dinner, recovery and an early bedtime.”
Banwarth’s dual role as a player training for the Olympics and helping the Waves has not been undervalued by the Pepperdine coaching staff.
“We respect that she drives several hours to Malibu, works with us and then travels to Anaheim to train with coach Karch Kiraly…. every day!” Dunphy said. “She is into coaching and I admire her work.”