Prep volleyball: McKenzie Willey's success comes from commitment, work ethic

Published: Monday, Sept. 24 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

McKenzie Willey is the daughter of two former volleyball players who insisted their children be active when they were young. That led young Kizzy to try just about every game imaginable from gymnastics to baseball to soccer. But eventually, it was volleyball that won her heart, just as it had her mother's two decades ago.

Kizzy said that because she was essentially raised in a gym, there aren't too many places she feels more at home than a volleyball court.

"I was born and raised in volleyball," said Kizzy Willey. "My mom played and coached all her life. I was a gym rat ever since birth. I was raised in gyms."

Her mom said that's not an exaggeration. Both Cindy and Walt Willey played volleyball, and Cindy coached in various capacities since she finished playing at the University of Montana. She laughs when asked to compare her daughter's talent to her own.

"We've never compared her to me at all," said Cindy Willey, who at 5-foot-8 was the smallest middle blocker in the NCAA when she played. "If we did, I'd be embarrassed. She's 6-foot-1 and the game has evolved."

Club programs, as well as national development programs, have given volleyball players advantages that, just two decades ago, players didn't even dream of having.

Players are stronger, the game quicker and the sport more complex. It requires more all-around fitness and intelligence than ever.

"It's a real mental game," Kizzy said of why she enjoys the sport so much. "The particular position I'm on, outside hitter, you're the go-to girl, kind of the leader on the court. You have to step up and play all the way around. You need to be good at everything, and you need to be able to put a ball away."

And anyone who's seen the 18-year-old swing knows that when she says "put the ball away" she means sending it over the net with no hope it will be returned.

Competition is not an endeavor "KamaKizzy" takes lightly.

"It's a lot of pressure on us, but I like the pressure," she said. "I play with a lot of intensity, so it's the perfect sport for me. It's a good thing there is a net between me and the opponent."

EMAIL: adonaldson@desnews.com