Team USA Experience Will Boost UK Volleyball's Brown

This is the fourth of a six-part series of feature stories on the 2016 Kentucky Volleyball team.

The summer of 2016 was a memorable one for Kentucky volleyball standout Kaz Brown. While on a summer break from classes, Brown had a unique opportunity to play the sport she loves while seeing a part of the world that many don’t get to see.

Brown was one of 12 players selected for the USA Volleyball Collegiate Team that would tour China and play volleyball over the summer. And as Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner knows, playing for your country can be a daunting experience.

“Being selected to participate and travelling to China to represent USA Volleyball is a great honor,” Skinner said. “Any time you put on the USA jersey, it gives most athletes goosebumps to be able to represent their country.”

Brown, a 6-4 junior from Waterloo, Iowa, got to see not only a different part of the world, but a different style of volleyball.

“On the court, the way they play, is really fast-paced, which is a challenge for a blocker,” she said. “I hope that will translate over into this season, helping me become a better blocker and having better footwork.”

But it wasn’t all volleyball, and Brown is appreciative for the opportunities she had halfway across the globe.

“China was definitely a big culture shock,” she said. “Off the court, we got to see some really famous locations. We did lots of exploring and got to see a lot of Chinese culture, and I’m glad we took the time to do that. It was a really cool experience for me. It helped me grow as a person, maturity-wise, so I’m thankful for that.”

In addition to being in a different country, Brown found herself in unfamiliar territory on the floor.

“Kaz has rarely not been a starter in her career, if ever,” Skinner said. “She wasn’t starting (for Team USA) initially, but by the end, she was starting. She developed a skill in serving that she had never done for us. I think it was an eye-opening experience for her in humility and learning how to earn your way.”

Playing multiple spots for Team USA was a learning experience for Brown.

“My role on that team was different,” she said. “There were times where I was sitting (on the bench) and times when I was a starter. That helped me a lot, seeing both sides. That will help me be a better teammate.”

As a sophomore for the Wildcats last year, Brown had a breakout year, finishing third in the nation in blocks per set (1.61), something she would love to improve on this season.

“I want to work more on solo blocking,” Brown said of an area she has concentrated on this offseason. “Last year was a lot of blocking assists, but this year I want to take care of more blocking in the middle and becoming more diverse on offense. I’d like to be first in the nation in blocking, that’s something I think about. I don’t become obsessed with it, but that is a goal of mine.”

Skinner knows that being a good blocker is not as easy as it appears.

“There are a lot of tall blockers that are not great blockers, so it’s not size alone,” Skinner said. “It’s an instinct, it’s technique and size wrapped into one. Probably one of the most important factors is that it’s intensity and determination to shut people down.”

Her teammates know what an imposing presence Brown can be at the net.

“Kaz has always been going after it hard, but she’s now become a vocal leader for us,” said junior libero Ashley Dusek. “She’s trying to make us a better team.”

Sophomore Brooke Morgan has played with Brown for a number of years and knows what she can bring to the table.

“Kaz impacts the game because she’s just this big blocker,” Morgan said. “She’s really fun to play with, especially when we’re in the front row together, and especially since we’re both from Iowa. She’s so strong and her ability to block is incredible.”

As Brown embarks on her third year at Kentucky, she will take a more worldly view into the upcoming season thanks to her summer experience in China. And the Wildcats hope that translates into an even better Brown in 2016.