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TALES OF THE TIGERS: White’s Will to Win

Courtesy of Fort Hays State University Athletics

BY NIKKI SHERRILL

The will to win is painted on the face of Fort Hays State’s libero, Taylor White. Winning is instilled in White, and that same attitude is contributing to her leadership on the Tiger volleyball team. White, the starting libero for the FHSU Volleyball team, is hoping her will to win can spread throughout the rest of her team as this season progresses. The Tigers are out to a 9-12 record through early October and just 1-6 in conference play so far.

“Honestly, I just want us to win. That’s what it comes down to. I want us to be competitive in our conference and make it into the top eight of the MIAA. I just want us to pull some good wins out against good teams and get back to how we know we can play,” said the red-shirt freshman libero White.

Winning is not new to White, who was a six-time Kansas High School State Champion at Silver Lake High School. She was a member of four team titles in volleyball (2), basketball, and track and field combined while earning two-event state titles in track and field. White was the starting setter for the volleyball team all four years of her prep career. Within those years, White’s will powered her to lead the team to two state championships over her sophomore and junior seasons. As a sophomore, White led the state in assists with 1,123, but she did it in grand fashion breaking the state’s single-season record for all classes. White amassed 4,216 total assists in four years, also setting the state’s career record for all classes. Though her high school career saw mostly highs, White admits it wasn’t always easy for her as she didn’t earn starting privileges right away her freshmen season.

“I thought that I was one of the best setters, but she just didn’t put me in at first (as a freshman). It was frustrating so I came in and worked harder and talked to my coach about what I needed to do. She told me and from there forward, she put complete trust in me. It was nerve-wracking when I was named the starter because I was so young, but I achieved that confidence in myself which made my team believe too,” she said.

The confidence shined through with each match White anchored the setter position, with the result coming in the biggest form of flattery for any high school athlete. After her senior season, White was named the Kansas Class 3A Player of the Year in volleyball, giving Silver Lake its third-straight year with an athlete capturing the honor.

“It was crazy to get that award. Especially as a setter. Usually, hitters get that (award) since they get all the points. When I got the text I was mind blown. It was an incredible feeling. I knew that I did everything I could do to help my team and they saw that,” said White.

But volleyball wasn’t the only area White shined. Other than on the volleyball court, White excelled at basketball as an all-state point guard and in track and field as her teams saw success with her contributions. With team achievements important to White, the biggest personal highlight of her prep career came in an individual event.

“Winning triple jump my junior year in track was amazing. I had won a couple team events but winning an individual title, and having to do it by myself was the biggest accomplishment,” said White who broke her own school record at the state meet with a mark of 37 feet, 10.5 inches in the event. Even with the big individual accomplishment, White had a big part in her team’s state title that year, gaining big points as a member of the victorious 4×100 meter relay team that year.

With her high school athletic career behind her, college came into focus. White initially thought about not playing any sport in college. In fact, she was looking forward to attending the University of Kansas and not worry about collegiate athletics. However, one visit to Hays changed the track White thought she would stay on.

“When I came here and met the girls, they honestly were the biggest reason I came here. Coach Kohler also made me so much more confident in my game and he made me realize that I was actually pretty good at volleyball and had the ability to play at the next level. Coming out of high school, everyone is good. But he put a lot of confidence in me that made me believe. Because of that, I knew this was the right fit for me,” said White.

Her first year on campus, White took a red-shirt year to adjust to her new role of being a libero.

“It’s different from when I was a setter in high school and it was challenging to make that transition. Now I see how difficult defense is because I have to be everywhere on the court. When I was a setter, that was my focus but now I have to see the whole court. The redshirt

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year helped me improve so much. I had never played libero so coming in and getting the reps in practice helped, but sitting on the sideline at games, watching tendencies, and watching teammate Kailey Klibbe (in that role) last year was a huge advantage. That red-shirt year was definitely needed because I was so new to the position and I was able to get comfortable,” she said.

This season is White’s first as the full-time libero for the Tigers. With her new leadership role as a redshirt-freshman, White has had to be the voice and eyes for her squad on the court. White currently owns 369 digs through 21 matches as the anchor for the FHSU defense.

“I have to step up and lead people and make sure everybody is going for each ball. I have to cover a lot of the floor. I have to make sure I am successful at my job and making sure that everyone else is doing their job. I think my ability to do that has helped me be a leader for the team,” said White.

The tough MIAA schedule brings a lot of strong, talented hitters against the Tigers. For White, this competition has tested her and encouraged her to work even harder because she knows there is no off-day in this conference.

“The competition is amazing. The hitters I face in this conference are so good, so it’s challenging to try and dig their balls and that has helped me grow to love the sport even more,” she said.

The road doesn’t get any easier for the Tigers as they host No. 20 Central Missouri this Thursday, and second meetings with No. 8 Nebraska-Kearney and No. 7 Central Oklahoma are also ahead. White hopes she and her fellow teammates can bring forward their best competition through the remaining tough MIAA slate.

“Whenever we get to 20 points we always seem to relax, so I think we need to work on finishing games completely. We need to be able to bring it all together and have a complete game because that is what we are lacking. For me, I am working on getting more digs per set and making sure I’m starting good passes for my team. I know we can compete against anyone, we just have to think we can,” said White.

Although her first season as the starting libero has seen highs and lows emotionally, White has high hopes for the team moving forward.

“In the end, I just love volleyball and I’m so glad I get the chance to play here with these girls,” said White. “I love this game more than any other I have ever played, and I love this team. I just want us to, at the end of the season, know that we put in all of our efforts and we didn’t quit.”

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