Children all over the United States dream of playing collegiate volleyball; other kids dream of attending Brigham Young University.
As a child, Kayla Walker, BYU’s six-foot-five-inch senior rightside hitter, dreamed of neither.
Growing up in Kaysville, Utah, Walker never planned to go to BYU.
“I was recruited here my sophomore year of high school and I didn’t even give it a second look,” Walker recalled. “I didn’t want to go to BYU and I didn’t want to stay in the state of Utah.”
As a youngster, volleyball was not in Walker’s plans either.
“I had played basketball from the time I was born until I was 13 years old,” Walker said. “My dad always wanted me to play basketball.”
When her junior high school held tryouts for volleyball and Walker’s mom, Laurie, asked her to try out, she initially refused to attend. She finally relented and agreed to go out for the team when her mom made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“I didn’t want to go but my mom said, ‘I’ll give you $75 and you can get your hair done if you’ll just go to the tryout,’” Walker said.
Despite hesitation and having no previous volleyball experience, Walker made the team. After all, standing at six-feet-two-inches in the seventh grade she was every middle school volleyball coach’s dream. For Walker, it was love at first spike.
“I fell in love with it almost instantly so it was worth the 75 bucks,” she said.
One year later she faced the difficult obstacle of breaking the news to her dad, Greg, that she was quitting basketball.
“I thought I was breaking his heart when I told him I wasn’t going to play basketball anymore,” Walker remembered. “I said ‘please don’t cry, volleyball is really great.’”
But her dad took the news well and has since become an avid volleyball fan.
“Now he’s obsessed with volleyball,” Walker explained. “He doesn’t even talk about basketball anymore.”
After graduating from Davis High School Walker left Utah as she had always planned to do. She headed to Malibu Beach, Calif., with a full scholarship to play volleyball at Pepperdine University.
However, during the fall of her sophomore year things did not seem right for Walker at Pepperdine. She started to consider the possibility of transferring but tried to quickly push those thoughts out of her mind.
“I remember thinking college is going to be hard for everyone at some point,” Walker said. “Plus, when you are a student-athlete it’s always hard. I thought I would just stick it out because I only had two years left. Then spring came and everything started falling apart.”
Walker began to pray about this life-changing decision. She soon received an answer to her prayers. That answer was to leave Pepperdine and head back to Utah. Walker said it was hard to leave her coaches at Pepperdine, particularly head coach Nina Matthies, who she says was like a mother to her. Nevertheless, things fell into place perfectly for her transfer to BYU.
For many, transferring is a hard adjustment but Walker said the transition was not as difficult as she expected.
“It was not as hard as I thought it would be,” Walker said. “The girls were awesome. From the day I got here they just brought me right in.”
In her debut season at BYU in 2008 Walker seemed right at home on the court. She and the BYU women’s volleyball team finished with a 14-12 overall record and Walker was named to the All-Mountain West Conference team. She also led the team in kills per set but that wasn’t enough for Walker.
“It was a winning season, but I wish we could have done better,” she said.
She is looking forward to this coming season for the opportunity to do just that.
“I am really excited because this spring everyone on the team wants to be here and they are giving 100-percent,” Walker explained. “We have improved so much and it makes me so excited going into the fall because I know we are going to do well. We are all on the same page now, we are all ready to go.”
Cougar head coach Shay Goulding is looking forward to big things from Walker and the team this season.
“Kayla is ready to make a big impact on the MWC and with her at the helm, I believe we will have a strong and exciting postseason as well,” Goulding said.
The MWC also has great expectations for Walker as she was recently named to their 2009 preseason All-MWC team.
Walker said there are two things she loves about BYU thus far; the people and the LDS environment.
“You know BYU has that LDS image and people say that it is so strict here, but I love it, I really do,” Walker said with conviction. “The people here are so great. The athletic administration is great, my coaches are great and the people in Provo are great.”
To illustrate this point, Walker recalled an experience that she had with assistant coach Shawn Olmstead.
“I was having a really bad day and at practice Shawn noticed I wasn’t myself,” Walker said. “I told him I was just having a rough day but two hours later he showed up at my apartment with a plate of cookies.”
Her coaches feel just as fortunate to have her on their team.
“There are many intangibles that come with Kayla beyond her size and athletic ability,” said Goulding. “She is an unpretentious leader who insists on working hard and demands the best from her teammates. On top of it all, her smile lights up the gym and she is a delight to be around. I feel very lucky to have her on our team.”
Walker explained that the atmosphere at BYU is drastically different from the atmosphere at Pepperdine.
“I didn’t have a great social life at Pepperdine but I was always asked to be the designated driver,” Walker recalled. “We have so much fun here at BYU though. We do the dumbest things but without alcohol. We remember what we did the next day and we don’t wake up sick.”
Walker is very grateful for the experience she had while at Pepperdine and the “amazing people” she met there. She is also grateful for what she learned about herself while she was there.
“I never would have appreciated BYU for everything it is and has, had I not gone to Pepperdine first and figured my life out,” said Walker. “It was while at Pepperdine that I learned to stand on my own and I figured out my own testimony. I realized everything that I want in my life: the church, my family (Walker’s brother attends BYU and her family lives nearby), everything was here at BYU.”
Even though as a child Walker never pictured herself attending BYU and playing volleyball for the Cougars, it is apparent there is no place she would rather be.
Walker summed up her feelings about BYU when she said with her light-up-the-gym smile, “I just feel lucky to be here.”