Tom Smart, Deseret News
University of Utah volleyball players Lori Baird, left, and Kathryn Haynie pace the team.

With more than 950 kills, she will surpass the 1,000 mark for a career over the next couple of matches for the University of Utah volleyball team.

She is tied for the school record of five service aces in a single game. And she traveled to Russia with a junior volleyball team after her ninth-grade year in high school.

Who is this superstar for the Utes?

Well, actually, the above describes two Utah players — seniors Kathryn Haynie and Lori Baird.

"We were treated like superstars in Russia," said Baird, "Nearly 10,000 people attended every match, and we were mobbed for autographs afterwards."

Maybe they are not mobbed for autographs up on the hill, but their contributions are not lost on Coach Beth Launiere or the other coaches of the Mountain West Conference.

"Both have been a huge part of the core of this program," said Launiere. "I'm sure opposing coaches wonder when they are going to be finished."

Teammates look up to both players for leadership, and Haynie has a special reputation for being nice.

"She is so nice," said Launiere, "that in practice when she is blocked, she tells them 'what a nice block' before the ball even lands."

"It's how I've always been," responds Haynie, offering no other explanation. But later she divulged she grew up in a family with eight sisters, which might have something to do with it.

Haynie credits her older sisters (she is number six) with getting her into volleyball. She said, "I just followed them."

Her father was also influential in her career. "He would sit down and talk to me after matches in which I was frustrated," she recalled.

She said both parents were very supportive and she started going to volleyball matches when she was 9 months old.

Baird had an older sister who played at Ricks College. Her dad played basketball in college but, she said, "He was really supportive. He told me to do what I want to do."

A short time ago, Haynie registered five aces against Utah State, and the record she tied was that of Baird, who did it last year.

Competition is not fierce between the two despite what the record book says. In fact, their relationship sounds more like a mutual admiration society. Haynie says, "Her vertical leap is a half inch higher than mine."

Baird responds, "It's pretty much the same."

Haynie counters, "She is 2 inches taller."

Both possess uncommon jumping ability. Baird's two additional inches of height placed her as a middle blocker last year, when Emillie Toone was out with an injury. This year she is back as an outside hitter and she leads Haynie by about 10 kills in the race to see who gets to 1,000 career kills first.

But who reaches that milestone first is not a priority. Their goals run more toward improvement than statistics.

"We get new goals in practice week by week," said Baird.

Added Haynie: "We talk about potential all the time. My main goal is to achieve the most potential I can. There is always more that you can achieve."

Of course, winning the conference is always a goal, but they realize sometimes that goal is not always controllable.

"We want to be the best we can be, right now."

Both women admitted that attacking is the most fun and is their favorite thing to do. But other skills need to be worked on.

"I really worked hard in the off season on my digging," said Haynie. Baird said she wanted to increase the power on her serve.

In the classroom, Baird is studying human development and said that she just added social work. Haynie is studying accounting and may go to grad school.

"I have also thought about playing overseas," she said, "maybe Puerto Rico."

Baird also said she would investigate opportunities to play abroad.

"Whatever happens," said Haynie, "I will always play volleyball, whether it is a rec team or coaching, it will always be a big part of my life."

And, finally, one more similarity: Both women started piano lessons in the first grade and took them up until they were sophomores in high school, when they both quit to concentrate on — what else — volleyball.


E-mail: wjewkes@desnews.com