Student is a sitter (not a setter) on U.S. Paralympic
Purdue junior Kendra Lancaster hardly looks the part of a seasoned veteran of international athletic competition. All of 5-foot-7 and weighing little more than a bag of volleyballs, Lancaster looks more like a player’s kid sister who keeps wandering onto the court during practice.
But the junior pre-veterinary major from Westfield, Ind., just competed in her second Paralympic Games in Beijing, China, as a member of the silver medal-winning U.S. sitting volleyball team for players with disabilities.
In sitting volleyball, players may block a serve and are required to keep some part of their upper body (from the shoulders to the buttocks) in contact with the ground when hitting the ball.
Not only does Lancaster have the medals to prove she is one of the best Paralympian volleyball players in the world — earning a bronze in Athens in 2004 and the silver in Beijing on September — she’s got the mettle, too.
“She’s a tough kid,” says Mike Hulett, the team’s head coach since 2003. “Kendra is definitely the spirit of the team. She is what you would call a high-energy kid. She’s been great to have on the team.”
The U.S. team defeated Lithuania and Latvia and lost to China in the preliminary rounds before earning a spot in the gold medal game with a marathon (2 hour) five-set victory over the Netherlands in the semifinals.
Playing in front of 5,500 fans in the finals, the U.S. lost a rematch with the Chinese team in three sets and settled for the silver medal.
Lancaster was recommended to the U.S. team by a club coach in Indianapolis. After a successful tryout in Denver, she joined the national team as a 17-year-old high school student. But she had to learn a new version of the game after playing standing volleyball for Westfield High School (north of Indianapolis) for four years.
“Our sport is much quicker than the traditional game,” Hulett explains. “The balls aren’t hit as high, and with a lower net (3 feet high) and a smaller court, things happen much more quickly. It takes some adjustment.”
The seated game is played on a slightly smaller surface. “It was really different,” Lancaster recalls. “The skills of hitting are the same when you go from standing to sitting volleyball, but moving around is so much different. I am an arm amputee (she was born without a left arm from the elbow down) and most of the other players on the team are leg amputees. I really had to teach myself to stay on the ground to hit the ball, which was difficult, because I’m not a patient person.”
But between points, well, you can often find Lancaster up and about, supporting her teammates.
“Whenever we win a point, she goes nuts. She gets up and runs around the court slapping everyone’s hands,” Hulett says.