September 21, 2019

Former D-I middle hitter supplies spark for Gorloks

It was the end of July 2012 when now-sophomore Samantha Kersting, while vacationing in Florida, laid by the poolside to contemplate whether she should play volleyball for Webster University. At that moment, she decided she needed to do so.

Volleyball has been a part of Kersting’s life since she was in elementary school.

“My older cousin had always played volleyball. I guess it was passed down in the family,” Kersting said. “I started playing in fifth grade for a team, but I still remember Stephanie (Kersting’s cousin) spending time in the backyard trying to teach me how to serve.”

Sophomore middle hitter Samantha Kersting spikes the ball past Greenville College setter Nicole Schaeffer (No. 20) and middle hitter Marie Kendrick (No. 23) on Oct. 9. Kersting earned seven kills in the match which Webster won in three sets. PHOTO BY BRITTANY RUESS.

As Kersting’s love for volleyball grew, she played club volleyball and on her school’s team throughout her time at Lindbergh High School in St. Louis. While playing for the Lindbergh Flyers as a middle hitter, the 6-foot-1-inch Kersting quickly caught the attention of recruiters. One of which was Webster’s own volleyball coach, Merry Graf.

“I watched Sam play club ball her junior and senior years,” Graf said. “We had emailed and talked on the phone. She visited campus just after the school year ended as a junior and really liked it.  She applied, was accepted and had planned to attend WU and play volleyball.”

By Kersting’s senior year at Lindbergh, she was excited to play for Webster, but had a big decision to make when Indiana State University’s assistant volleyball coach, Camille Gutierrez, gave Kersting an offer she couldn’t refuse.

“I had my heart set on Webster since mid-junior year,” Kersting said. “But in March of my senior year, coach Camille recruited me from a small tournament and offered me a full ride. The next week, I visited their small campus and accepted my scholarship.

“I remember sitting on my bed crying my senior year because I knew I had to tell coach (Graf) I couldn’t come to Webster. She told me that I would always be welcome at Webster.”

It was hard for Kersting to make the decision to go to ISU, especially because it meant leaving the women she developed friendships with while playing club ball. Sophomores Allie O’Toole, Megan Morrison and Emily Ratkewicz all made the decision to play for Webster, and Kersting wouldn’t be joining them. Graf remembers watching the women play club ball together and noticing a difference in Kersting.

“I watched her (and O’Toole, Morrison and Ratkewicz) play club tourneys several times that spring,” Graf said. “At a certain point, I had a sense something had changed with Sam. I think a club coach mentioned that ISU was interested in her. When she told me she was offered a full ride, I told her I understood — it was a great opportunity — and wished her well.”

Despite the tough decision to not attend Webster, Kersting enjoyed her time at ISU and developed friendships with the women on her team.

After the fall season ended Kersting’s freshman year, Gutierrez, the coach who originally recruited Kersting, was released. When the replacement coach came in, Kersting said the team atmosphere changed.

“I decided that I no longer was playing because I loved volleyball and the team was not the best place for me. Webster had always been my first choice,” Kersting said.

She decided to leave ISU and transfer to the school she had her heart set on. When Graf got word from another coach that Kersting wasn’t returning to ISU, she quickly reached out to her.

“She wasn’t sure what she was going to do and I encouraged her to keep Webster in mind,” Graf said. “We spoke and emailed a few times and I didn’t want to push too hard, but told her I thought she would really enjoy Webster and the team.”

After her experience at ISU, Kersting was unsure if she wanted to continue to play the sport she loved since childhood.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to play and was avoiding making the decision,” Kersting said. “I was laying next to the pool on vacation in the end of July, and I decided I needed to play for Webster. I texted her that moment, and she responded rather quickly, welcoming me to the roster.”

Graf said she was thrilled when Kersting told her she would be playing for the Gorloks, and the team was eager to welcome her to the squad. Despite the differences from a Division-I team, Kersting adapted well to the changes.

“Playing on the court for Webster is a more enjoyable and comfortable atmosphere,” Kersting said. “Indiana didn’t care so much about you loving volleyball and loving your team as they did the numbers you put out.”

During this season, Kersting has been a major contributor to the team. She has been at or near the top of the conference in blocking and hitting percentage all season.

“I think Sam felt comfortable with the other players from the start, which has helped her be successful for us,” Graf said. “She works hard and wants to win. Having another strong performer helps take pressure off the other players. It gives us much more depth.”

So far for the Gorloks this season, Kersting leads the team with 259 kills. Not only has Kersting been a major contributor as an athlete, but also as a teammate.

“I hope to contribute not necessarily with my playing, but with my attitude,” Kersting said. “I want to be the person that can help pull you up and help you get the next point. Yes, I love getting an awesome kill or block, but it is just as important that Allie gets an awesome dump or Megan gets a great dig. I hope to contribute as a team player.”

Although she spent her freshman year of college at ISU, Kersting was able to use that to her advantage to become a better competitor for Webster.

“I don’t regret coming to Indiana,” Kersting said. “I think it made me who I am today, but coming to Webster was the best decision I have ever made. I am so happy and I couldn’t imagine going to play anywhere else.”

To read about another current Webster athlete who played D-I athletics — women’s soccer midfielder Ally Nikolaus — click here

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