Mississippi State’s senior libero Kayla Woodard did something this year that nobody ever did: She became the first player to earn SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors at MSU.
Kayla posted 507 digs, the third highest total in the past 36 seasons at Mississippi State.
For her efforts, she was awarded the Newsom Award to honor her as Mississippi State’s top volleyball student-athlete. In 121 career matches, she piled up 1433 digs.
Not bad for a walk-on.
Along with Kayla Woodard’s successes on the volleyball court, she is an outstanding student at Mississippi State University, earning SEC Academic Honor Roll and a perfect 4.0 GPA.
Kayla was named to the ESPN Academic All-American Volleyball team, as well as earning ESPN first team academic all district VI team honors for 2010.
Just recently, I was able to catch up with Kayla and get some feedback about her success.
John Neuman: Where did you grow up and how did you get started playing volleyball?
Kayla Woodard: I grew up in a small town in Addison, Alabama. I started playing volleyball in the sixth grade. We had tryouts [at] the end of sixth grade and I have played ever since.
JN: What kind of impact did your family play on your upbringing with volleyball?
KW: My family has always been very supportive of my volleyball career. My parents travel to almost all of my games and this being my last year they have gotten to come to all of my games.
I am so blessed to have them and their support. Growing up and learning the game of volleyball, my mom and dad [were] always willing [to help] and sent me to all kinds of defensive, and all-skills camps to make me better because that was what I wanted to do.
They made it happen. My mom was always one of the parents hauling all of us girls around to and from camps and games.
JN: When you started playing volleyball, did you practice on indoor courts or outside?
KW: When I first started playing, I practiced in the gym.
Of course, when I was little in elementary school we would play outside at PE, but we didn’t really know the rules or play the right way.
JN: Where did you play high school volleyball?
KW: I played at Addison High School. I played with the same girls that I grew up with my whole life. (LAUGHS)
JN: Did you participate in any other sports in high school?
KW: All throughout high school I played volleyball, softball, basketball and ran track. Going to a small school like I did, the same girls played everything.
If you were athletic, you pretty much had to do it all.
It was a lot of fun because you were always with the same girls and you really got to know them when you spent so much time with them.
JN: Were you a standout athlete as a child?
KW: It's funny that you ask that because my parents always tell me that they knew I was going to be athletic since I was three years old.
They told me that I loved to play with balls and when I was three years old, I could bounce a basketball.
JN: What brought you to Mississippi State and did you have any other scholarship offers?
KW: It was a very hard decision for me when choosing where to go to school.
I dealt with it for a while and was not really excited to move far away from home, well far for me (LAUGHS) but knew that it was a great opportunity to go play at an SEC school. I prayed about it and prayed about it, and I know without a doubt God brought me here for a reason.
I was only offered to walk on at MSU and knew that it would be expensive for my parents. God just answered my prayers and everything just fell into place.
I ended up getting an academic scholarship and my out-of-state tuition waived. That was my answer and how I knew this was where God wanted me to be.
I did have other scholarship offers to smaller schools—community colleges closer to home. I was actually considering playing both volleyball and softball at a community college 45 minutes from home when the Lord just showered me with answered prayers.
JN: How do you like Mississippi State and the campus life?
KW: I love Mississippi State! I have really enjoyed my time here.
As far as campus life goes, I do not have a whole lot of free time to do a lot of stuff on campus. I am involved in FCA and I attend Campus Crusades, which are both very special ministries on campus.
I love the community and how teachers are involved and keep up with how we are doing with sports. I have had teachers save newspaper articles and bring them to me to class. I love how they care about what is going on campus and are involved in what is going on.
JN: What do you do to enjoy your free time away from Volleyball?
KW: To be honest I don’t really know what free time is. (LAUGHS)
Between all the time I spend in the gym and all the time I spend doing school work there isn’t a whole lot of time for anything else. I love spending time in the Word and going to FCA. I have made a lot of lasting friendships through FCA that have really influenced my life.
I am so thankful that God gave me the opportunity to be involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes because there is no where else I would rather spend my time.
I also love to hangout with my family when I do not have volleyball. I am very much a family person and love getting to spend time with them when I am not busy with volleyball.
JN: How did you become so good at playing defense? Any advice to give to players to make themselves better?
KW: The best advice I can give anyone wanting and striving to be a better player is to always have a positive attitude and always be willing to the extra work to get better.
You have to be selfless and willing to do anything. You have to be coachable and open minded.
Let the struggles make you stronger and learn from the ups and downs in each and every moment.
JN: In 2009, you averaged 4.35 digs per set and you had the fifth most in the SEC. You had a game against Ole Miss where you piled up 34 digs, the second most in the SEC. How did you feel after that game and did you realize you had a record game?
KW: I don’t really remember this...(LAUGHS) Is that sad or what?
JN: You are on par to become only the 12th MSU player ever to have 1000 career digs. How does it feel to approach this milestone?
KW: It feels really awesome to be able to reach this milestone in my volleyball career. I was so shocked when I found out that was on the verge of reaching 1000 digs.
I have never been one to be caught up in the stats and have not really ever kept up with all of that. It made be feel very proud to be one of the few that have ever accomplished that at MSU.
It gave me reassurance that I was doing my job and making a difference on the team. It really helped me see how much I had improved over the past year and a half.
JN: What is the most challenging part of playing collegiate volleyball?
KW: Collegiate volleyball is a full time job, just like any other collegiate sport.
It takes all of your time and there isn’t much time for anythings else after going to class, working out, practicing, and then studying.
I would say the most challenging thing would be in learning to manage your time and making the most of every little free moment you get.
JN: What is your favorite part about being on the team?
KW: My favorite part of being on the team is my teammates and having the opportunity to do something I love. I love being able to go out there on the court and using the ability and talent God has given me to glorify His name through the passion and desire that He has given me for the game. I love all the friendships that I have made over the past four years and they will always hold a special place in my heart.
JN: What was your most memorable game and why?
KW: My most memorable game would have to be the Georgia game this year when we played them at their place.
It was such an awesome game! We played our hearts out and were determined to do whatever it took to win. We battled and fought hard that game. I remember I had like 31 digs that game and my roommate Ashley Newsome had I think 26 kills. It was awesome! I do not know that I have ever felt like that before.
I had a good game that day and had such a confidence about me. I just wanted them to keep hitting and serving at me. I was determined to make a difference and it worked. We beat Georgia in five! The games were close and gave it our all.
It was one of those games I kept looking back on throughout the rest of the season for confidence boosts and mentally preparing before the games.
JN: What do you plan to do after you graduate?
KW: My degree is in Elementary Education so I plan on applying for teaching jobs upon graduation.
I would like to teach the lower grades, but right now I am just hoping and praying for a job.
I love children and cannot wait to be able to have the opportunity to work with them everyday and possibly make a difference in their lives.
JN: Out of all the different college campuses that you’ve had the blessing to travel to, which one would you say is your favorite and why?
KW: I would have to say my all-time favorite campus would be Alabama because I grew up a Bama fan and it's just near and dear to my heart.
I also always grew up going to Alabama volleyball camps and visiting the campus a lot so that makes it even more special. I love when we play at Alabama because [it’s] always a pretty good crowd from people back home that come to watch me play.
I feel that I am always more nervous then because I want people from back home to be proud of me and see how far I have came over the past few years.
JN: Besides volleyball, what are some of your favorite activities?
KW: I love spending time with my family and playing with my two little nephews. I love going to the movies and just relaxing.
JN: Are you a fan of the Mississippi State Football team and do you ever get a chance to go to the games?
KW: Yes I am a fan of the Mississippi State football. Having the same season as football makes it a little harder to be there.
This season we only got to go to three football games and we usually have to leave the game early because of curfew. I love going to the games and just being in that atmosphere.
The volleyball team even has a tailgate at the game so it's fun for us to all hangout before the game.
Our parents that are in town usually help with organizing it so its good for us to get to spend time with them as well.
JN: Do you have a favorite vacation spot or a place you would really like to visit?
KW: I would love to go to Tahiti. Ever since watching this past season of the Bachelorette and seeing it on television, I have wanted to go there.
My favorite vacation is going on a cruise. We usually go on a cruise as a family every summer. It is so relaxing and you get to spend good quality time with the family.
John Neuman: And one last question, what advice would you give for any young person wanting to play?
Kayla Woodard: I would tell them that playing collegiate volleyball is a full time job but you learn a lot and it's a great experience.
I have made some great memories and have gotten to travel a lot of different places. I would also tell them that they need to really love the game because it is not always fun.
It is hard work and requires determination, love, passion and dedication. It is something you have to love or you will never get through it.
I would tell them to always work hard and give all you have and it will pay off.
Coming to Mississippi State as a walk-on my freshman year was hard because I was playing just because I loved the game and not really getting anything in return. I was determined to work hard and earn a scholarship after that year. I set my mind to it and did whatever it took to make myself better.
I went from being a walk-on to a scholarship player because I worked hard and dedicated myself to the team and being a better player.
I know that my hard work and God’s guidance and protection are the reasons why I have had the success I have had here at MSU.