Author: Clif Cody
Rubber soles screech on the polished wooden floor of Rush Gymnasium as volleyballs whiz by, bouncing off the folded bleachers and concrete walls. A mix of shouting and cheering echoes throughout the gym, a sound that can be heard from the parking lot outside over 50 feet away. Members of the Occidental women’s volleyball team are in the midst of their Tuesday night practice.
The women wear black spandex shorts and matching dark jerseys. Although their uniforms are nearly identical, one thing makes Kandace Korver, their senior returning co-captain, stand out: she is wearing a large face mask that wraps around her entire head, barely allowing her long black ponytail to escape.
Korver plays libero for the Tigers — a position identified by a different-colored jersey during games — which allows her to quickly substitute various defensive roles on the court. It requires constantly diving for balls (referred to as “digging”), setting up teammates and returning serves.
It was an incident in a game Sept. 18 against Redlands that gave her the face mask she is currently wearing. As Korver was digging for the ball, her teammate, Claire Strohm (sophomore), accidentally hit her in the face while trying to make the same play.
“I looked back and something wasn’t right,” Strohm said.
As blood started pouring down her face, Korver had two initial reactions, according to head volleyball coach, Heather Collins. The first was to avoid getting blood on her new white jersey. The second was to get back on the court as soon as possible.
Korver, co-captain with Sarah Beene (senior), is starting her last season for the Tigers. During her time at Occidental, she helped her team make SCIAC playoffs her first and second years, and more recently, was awarded team MVP for her junior season.
Before Korver played volleyball, she was a competitive gymnast for 12 years. However, after injuring both her wrists, Korver figured she would try a new sport. Many of her friends played volleyball in eighth grade, so she decided to try out for the team.
She quickly fell in love. For her, playing on a team was a welcome change from gymnastics, a more individual-oriented sport.
“You get really close with your teammates. It’s just a lot of fun to just play with people that you love and respect,” Korver said. “When you win, everyone contributed to that, it’s not just one person who had an amazing game.”
In her high school near Palo Alto, California, Korver received honorable mention in her region, All-West Bay League, and helped push her club volleyball team to a second place finish at a season-ending tournament. In the classroom, she was a member of the National Honor Society for Spanish, Science and Math and received silver, bronze and honorable mentions on the National Spanish Exam.
And she didn’t slow down in college.
When Collins met Korver on a recruitment trip, the first thing she noticed was her focus and dedication.
“I knew she was very serious about the game, that she was really competitive and that she had a strong volleyball IQ,” Collins said.
As a first-year, the bar was set high for Korver, as the women’s volleyball team was nationally ranked. Korver was intimidated, but she soon learned the benefits of joining an experienced team.
“It was really nice coming into a program that had so many people to look up to, and see what the standards were for the program,” Korver said. “Everyone’s really motivated and driven. There’s an edge to that that I wasn’t as prepared for as I should have been, but within the first few weeks I got acclimated to the environment.”
Korver adjusted to the academic environment, as well. In her first year, she started taking classes to fulfill her double major in Spanish and economics and soon decided to add a minor in math. She was named to the SCIAC All-Academic team both her sophomore and junior years.
She continued studying Spanish abroad in Barcelona during her sophomore summer and recently returned from her spring semester abroad in Australia, where she studied math and economics.
In Australia, despite studying at the top-ranked University of Melbourne, Korver found time to nourish her adventurous side.
“If I wanted to go explore, I’d find myself sometimes wandering off by myself,” Korver said. “The public transportation was so good there, you just walk around and get lost in the city. Wherever the wind takes you, that’s where you go.”
Now back for her senior year, Korver is taking ukulele lessons at Occidental. She has family on her mother’s side who live in Hawaii; since her grandparents can play the ukulele, she thought it would be the perfect instrument to learn. On her father’s side, Korver is related to Kyle Korver, an NBA player for the Atlanta Hawks. Her parents, who are both doctors, live in the Bay Area and come down to watch a majority of her games.
This year, her parents will watch her lead a young team. The Tiger roster consists of nine first-years, seven sophomores, one junior and two seniors.
Beene says that Korver is a good role model for the lower division students. She encourages her teammates to challenge themselves while lifting in the weight room and playing on the court.
“She expects the best of everyone and drives everyone to do their best by leading by example,” Beene said.
While Korver’s high standards and dedication to the program may make her seem intimidating at first, Cassandra Guidice (sophomore) says her caring and empathetic attitude evens out her personality.
“She really takes the time to get to know everybody,” Guidice said. “She won’t ever ignore you, she’ll come up and talk to you and ask how you’re doing, she’ll take time out of her day to come help take care of you.”
Her tendency to look after her teammates has gotten the better of her in the past. As a junior — her first year as captain — Korver said she had a difficult time finding the balance between supporting both the team and herself.
“I tend to put them above my own needs sometimes,” Korver said.
Though Korver said she finally found a healthy balance this year, she still has no problem sacrificing her body to make a play.
After breaking her nose Friday night — the first conference game of the season — Korver stood on the sideline with gauze stuffed up her nose to stop the bleeding.
“It was scary, because we thought we would lose our best passer,” Amanda Herold (sophomore) said.
But for Korver, it was business as usual. Once her nose was taken care of, she went immediately back into the game, ready to serve the next point.
“The only reason she came off the court was because her nose started bleeding, she was kind of ignoring the pain,” Guidice said.
Collins said that she knew Korver would return to the court because she knows how to handle a challenge. She was right; after the 15-minute delay, Korver served the ball in, and ended up leading the Tigers into a point-winning streak.
Through this dedicated, caring and hard-to-faze attitude, Korver has left an indelible mark on women’s volleyball team.
“Having her gone is going to be a really dramatic change. It’s going to feel like there’s something missing for a while,” Guidice said.
Korver is currently applying for jobs after graduation. She is interested in managerial consulting along with any other business-related opportunities.
“Being from the Silicon Valley, I’ve just always been around the startup culture, the hustle and bustle of working in a business,” Korver said. “I guess that’s where the good money is now, because I want to be independent as soon as I can.”
Eventually, she would like to be head coach at a Division III women’s volleyball program somewhere similar to Occidental.
“It would be fun to coach smart young girls who really like the sport — that’s my long term goal,” Korver said.
For now, Korver is excited for her upcoming season.
“I can tell we’ve had so much improvement already, and the girls work so hard. I’m just so proud of them for how far they’ve come,” Korver said. “It’s been really nice watching them develop and mature as both players and people … and a really fun time.”
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