(Photo by Bella Torgerson/BYU Photo)
She admits she’s a bit superstitious, always pulling her right sock on first, then the left sock, followed by the right knee pad, then the left one. But for Kathryn LeCheminant, one who has come so far in her volleyball career, she’s entitled to a little superstition.
Coaches didn’t always see LeCheminant’s potential.
“I’ve had coaches in high school tell me, ‘We didn’t even think that you’d be able to make it this far,’” said the 6-foot-2 middle blocker from Layton, Utah. “I just kind of wanted to prove everybody who doubted me wrong.”
LeCheminant’s talents have recently begun to be recognized. This summer she was invited to play in the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball A2 Program.
“There’s only a handful that get to do that,” BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead said. “Hundreds and hundreds of girls in college go try out for that. To be selected as one of those few--that’s an elite group. For her to be selected and recognized for that was exciting for her and we were equally as excited.”
She made the program roster of 47 players out of 240 participants from 29 universities. The program divided the players into four teams: red, blue, gold and white that competed in a tournament against each other. LeCheminant’s team, the white team, won the whole thing.
“It was a huge honor to play with the best in the country,” she said. “It was just a great sense of honor to be able to be a part of that.”
Prior to the USA A2 team, her career resume had not included any conference or national honors, let alone tryouts for national team programs. The middle blocker has had to work through her own set of challenges. After redshirting her first year at BYU, Kathryn saw action in only 28 sets the following season. She had some health issues that made her ill and caused her to really question if she wanted to put in the necessary work to compete at the collegiate level. Her progression was limited, to say the least.
“My coach was talking to me and said, ‘Do you really want to do this? Do you really want to be on the team?’” LeCheminant said. “I almost lost my scholarship. I lost my spot on the team.”
Kathryn’s mother observed first-hand the challenges she faced.
“When she wasn’t feeling well, she had no energy,” Kathryn’s mother, Melinda LeCheminant said. “We were really concerned she was coming home and not going back to BYU.”
After her redshirt freshman season, LeCheminant was at a crossroads.
“I decided over Christmas break that I’ve worked too hard to get to where I am now to give up,” LeCheminant said. “I’m not a quitter.”
The standard was high. LeCheminant would have to meet some difficult goals to catch up to her teammates.
“That next winter semester was a trial period for me. I had to get on top of my health. I had to get my grades up because I was struggling in school. I had to get into the best shape of my life and I had to earn my spot back on the team, and I did it.”
Melinda was grateful her daughter’s efforts paid off.
“As a parent, to watch her take a nose dive into the ground and have her pull out of that--it was amazing to see the fight in her at the time,” Melinda said. “It was amazing to watch that total 180-degree change in her.”
After overcoming her health struggles, her game began to take off. Olmstead has recognized that Kathryn’s experiences with the USA A2 Team and on the court with the Cougars speak for her as a person.
“It is a credit again to her work, her tenacity and just her fight to overcome things,” Olmstead said. “It’s been impressive. It’s been a great story to watch her overcome those things.”
LeCheminant’s journey has literally led her out of obscurity.
“There was a time here at BYU when she was almost irrelevant,” Olmstead recalled. “I didn’t remember her at practice. I didn’t remember her at team things. She was there, but she just wasn’t engaging.”
Kathryn is used to proving herself to others.
“One time growing up, I got really mad because we lost. I was really upset and was talking to [my best friend growing up] about it and she said, ‘If you can’t handle the pressure of the coaching then you can’t play in college.’ She called me out on it. I said, ‘I will show you I can play in college.’”
The season following her illness, in 2011, LeCheminant returned to the lineup and started at middle blocker, showing definite improvement. She led the Cougars in hitting percentage (.311), solo blocks (13) and was second in total blocks (125).
Melinda LeCheminant recalled the time that she realized her daughter was back, and that she had fully conquered her trials. It was in the 2011 season in a match against Gonzaga.
“She sprained her ankle severely,” Melinda said. “They took her to the training room and she marched back onto the court and played the rest of the night.”
LeCheminant turned in another outstanding season in 2012, leading the team once again in solo blocks (17) and being third on the team in total blocks (96) and total kills (207), while starting all 32 matches and playing in all 112 sets for BYU.
“Five or six years ago, I was a senior in high school,” the middle blocker said. “I knew I was coming [to BYU], I knew I was going to play volleyball, but the things that I’ve learned and how I’ve grown and the way I’ve been molded into a person, I didn’t think it would happen the way it did. It’s better. I’m better for it.”
From a young age, LeCheminant wanted to attend BYU. She decided around age 10 that she wanted a scholarship. Her mother, Melinda, was a student athlete who won the 1989 NCAA Championship in the high jump while attending Texas A&M.
“I know the path you go on to be an accomplished, elite athlete. She’s gone those steps,” Melinda said. “I expected her to be successful.”
LeCheminant was about 14 years old when she started to pick up volleyball. Her neighbor encouraged her to pursue the sport.
“A neighbor helped motivate me. He said, ‘Oh you should play volleyball.’ He was the high school coach,” LeCheminant laughed.
During her high school years, the BYU senior played on a club team that won the Intermountain Region and finished 38th at the Junior Olympics in 2008. She also compiled career highs of 25 kills, 8 blocks and 5 service aces and helped her high school team also place fifth in the Utah state tournament.
LeCheminant first received attention from BYU when she was a sophomore in high school. She came to a spring volleyball camp and that’s when the coaches first saw her play. At the coaches’ encouragement she attended the summer camp as well.
“I knew I wanted to come to BYU,” LeCheminant recalled. “I had been recruited by several other schools, most of them in Utah, some of them out of state. I turned them all down, because I was waiting on BYU. I turned down all the scholarships and it was a leap of faith.
“The coach called me the week before signing day and said, ‘We’d like you to come.’ I almost hit my head on the ceiling, I jumped so high. I was so happy.”
Throughout her life, LeCheminant has had the support of not only BYU, but also the support of her family. Her mother was the one pushing her to be her best.
“When I would have a bad day, I would call her and she would talk me through it,” LeCheminant said. “She would say, ‘Okay. Get a spoonful of peanut butter and go to work.’”
Growing up, her mother helped her have an optimistic attitude.
“Every time I would have a volleyball game, she would say, ‘You get to play volleyball today.’ That was my thing in high school. I loved playing volleyball,” she added.
This kind of support system, fostering the positive attitude that Kathryn needed, was what helped her progress and take off as a player.
Behind LeCheminant’s leadership, the Cougars look to soar even higher in 2013 than in the 2012 season.
“I look forward to what I’m always preaching to these girls, which is just continual improvement,” Olmstead said. “I hope that she uses last year as a springboard to be even better this year. I’m hoping she breaks out even more.”
Improving upon the previous season will not be an easy task for BYU. In 2012, the Cougars compiled a 28-4 record, the best since 1998, en route to a conference championship and an NCAA tournament round-of-16 appearance. The last time BYU made the round of 16 was in 2007, and one would have to look back further to the year 2000 to find the last time the Cougars won a conference championship.
Beyond volleyball, LeCheminant wants to get involved to help at-risk youth. Her major is recreation management emphasizing on therapeutic recreation. It fits her perfectly. If she could, she would spend her time on wilderness excursions that help youth have positive experiences. She could offer a thing or two on the subject of conquering obstacles and overcoming challenges.
And about Kathryn’s drive to succeed, her mother said it best.
“She’s a fighter. If she knows what she wants to do, she goes for it.”