By Eric Myers
It’s 20 percent volleyball, 80 percent life. That’s the advice first-year assistant coach Kristin Carpenter gives to her players, who come to her for advice on anything from how to set the ball to relationship problems.
The 2012 Penn State graduate, and current Maryland volleyball assistant, always knew she wanted to be a coach. Now with that vision realized, Carpenter is embracing her role as a recruiter, coach and mentor. With a team that features 12 underclassmen, Carpenter serves as an extension of leadership to which players can relate on a level that extends further than just volleyball.
After an illustrious high school career, the Virginia native was a serving and defensive specialist off the bench as a freshman with the Nittany Lions. As a sophomore she was the primary setter for a national championship team. During her junior year, Carpenter transitioned to the libero position. As a senior, after being moved down in the rotation by other players, she served as a leader for her younger teammates.
With the amount of positions and roles Carpenter experienced during her college career, she is able to coach a number of positions, and provide guidance for any given situation.
“I can relate to every single player on this team,” Carpenter said. “Whether you’re a captain on the bench, whether you’re a starter, or you’re going in playing three or four different positions, I’ve done that.”
Upon graduating from Penn State, Carpenter spent time playing professionally overseas, with stints in Sweden and Greece. She then broke into the coaching ranks as an assistant last season with Oklahoma before reuniting with familiar faces in College Park.
Head coach Steve Aird has known Carpenter since she was 14 years old through volleyball; Carpenter was a high school player on the recruiting radar for Aird, who was then an assistant coach at Penn State.
Aird noticed Carpenter’s potential for coaching while he recruited and coached her.
“People loved playing with her, people loved being around her,” Aird said. “I think if you’re a player on the team, she’s easy to talk to. She only wants what’s best for you, so she’s a very selfless person when it comes to how she goes about her life and that carries over into how she coaches.”
Carpenter’s primary position group is the setters on Maryland’s roster. During her time as a setter, Carpenter facilitated a Penn State attack that ranked second in the nation in hitting percentage and led the Big Ten with a remarkable 11.52 assists per set.
“What she’s really helped us figure it out is our own style, our own sense and feel on the game,” junior setter Abigail Bentz said. “She almost says, ‘there’s a feel to the game, there’s a feel to who you need to set at what time,’ and she’s been really great at helping us figure that out.”
On the sideline, Carpenter tries to constrain some of the competitiveness and intensity that she played with during her college career. As a two-time NCAA national champion, Carpenter has experience with high-leverage situations, which leads her to embody a calming presence during close games.
“When things are going a little crazy, they need to look at someone a little calmer on the bench,” Carpenter said. “In certain situations, I don’t think player Kristin is what they need… it is a little different than what my true self is, but at the same time, it’s not about me.”
With the youth movement at Maryland, players are heeding advice from Carpenter as a player who has recently been through the rigors of Big Ten volleyball, college life off the court, and being a student-athlete.
“[Coaching life] is my role,” Carpenter said. “They’re in such a vital part of their life, they’re 18- to 22-year-olds. To see them grow and to see them change, not just in the volleyball gym, but as human beings, that’s my favorite part.”