Kylie DeBerg finds her voice in leadership, on and off the court

The two-time All-American reflected on her season of leadership as she prepares for her last dance in Omaha.

When the SEC announced a spring schedule, senior outside hitter Kylie DeBerg had to make a difficult decision.

The Hudson, Iowa, native was on track to graduate this past December and quickly transfer to LSU in the spring to pursue a beach volleyball career while studying for her masters’ degree.

Despite having the ability to opt out of the spring, DeBerg knew that she wouldn’t have the closure of saying a proper goodbye to her career at Missouri.

“Once I knew that we were going to get [the season] back, there was no reason to opt out,” DeBerg said. “I still have my two [years] to play beach and now we’re going to the tournament.”

It’s been over a year since the senior has experienced a normal volleyball season.

COVID-19 tests, quarantining and travel precautions posed challenges to leading her team in a time of uncertainty, and she quickly realized these new protocols were not going away any time soon.

On March 11, 2020, the day that University of Missouri officials canceled classes for the remainder of the week and moved all learning to online thereafter, DeBerg began to doubt the potential of her senior season.

“I was sitting in my bed about to get up and get ready for afternoon practice until they sent the text out that everything was canceled,” DeBerg said. “As a team, we were hoping that we would come back [to practice] after a week, then that became two weeks, and that turned into the whole summer.”

While the 2020-21 SEC volleyball season was in question and campus facilities remained closed throughout the summer, the Tigers still found a way to prepare.

The team was able to lift together at Athletes Performance Institute and practice inside a gym at The Crossing, a church in Columbia.

“It wasn’t really much different,” DeBerg said. “We got to lift and practice together every day for most of the summer.”

This provided the opportunity for the senior to master her craft: attacking.

DeBerg has always been a force on Missouri’s front row, all the way from hammering the ball to break an opponent’s block to slamming down overpasses right on the ten-foot line.

This year, however, she vowed to be just as good of an attacker in the back row as in the front row.

“[I needed] to not be stupid with [my swing],” DeBerg said. “[I needed] to give it to the setter instead of hitting it ten feet out of bounds if I know that I’m not in a good position to kill the ball.”

Her preparation from the summer was evident throughout this season, especially when it came to battling higher-ranked teams, such as No. 8 Florida. During a mid-March matchup, the Gators’ strong serving posed difficulties for Missouri’s back row to set up a successful attack.

However, DeBerg made her presence felt in the back row when a set to the pipe was the best offensive option. It kept the Tigers at bay with Florida despite a series loss.

The structure of summer training may have been the same, but a change of location provided a more intimate social environment where Missouri came together early on and DeBerg envisioned her season as a leader.

“I don’t like talking a lot on the court,” DeBerg said. “Alyssa [Munlyn] was the vocal leader my junior year and when she graduated, I knew that was going to fall on me because I’m on the court the entire game.”

The senior admitted that it took her a while to step out of her comfort zone, but she believes that it has improved her leadership skills and allowed her teammates to see her more as a friend.

One common interaction that came to DeBerg’s mind was her relationship with sophomore outside hitter Anna Dixon. The offensive duo tends to learn from each other’s mistakes.

After hitting three balls that landed out of bounce against LSU, Dixon became flustered and walked away from the net grudgingly, her hands fisted at her sides.

Missouri called a time out to regroup, and DeBerg pulled her teammate off to the side and mimicked her arm swing to show how to correct hers from veering off the designated target.

“I see a lot of myself in Anna [Dixon],” DeBerg said. “We both like to hit the ball more than tip, and having the same experiences my sophomore year I have been able to talk her through [her approach].”

It’s not only what an athlete does in a game, but what they do and how they act outside of their athletic realm can make them a standout leader. Outside of volleyball, work, school and balancing a social life, DeBerg makes it a priority to support a community that continually supports her.

Since 2018, she has worked with Columbia elementary schools, Tiger Pantry and the United Way.

Her actions would not go unnoticed.

It was a normal Friday afternoon working at the Athletes Performance Institute on March 26 for DeBerg — until she received a notification from her Twitter feed.

“@kyliedeberg12 is 1-of-10 finalist for this season's Senior CLASS Award,” the post from Missouri volleyball’s Twitter account read.

“It was a really big surprise,” DeBerg said. “I didn’t even know that I was up for [the award].”

The Senior CLASS Award recognizes student-athletes within the NCAA Division I for their hard work and dedication over the course of their tenure. They are evaluated based on athletic performance, academic success and community outreach.

Over her three-year career with Missouri, she has accumulated over 1,300 kills, two Dean’s List honors and over 40 hours of community service.

"Kylie has been a joy to coach since she stepped foot on campus," coach Joshua Taylor said. "She works hard on the court, in the classroom and the community. She is very deserving of this recognition."

The winner for this award is to be decided by fans, media and coaches’ votes and will be announced during the NCAA tournament.

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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