BALTIMORE – Kristin Watson did not play much volleyball during her freshman year at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) in 2015-16. A two-time team Most Valuable Player at Eleanor Roosevelt, Watson saw just a smattering of time on the court her first season as a walk-on. However everything slowly changed this fall. Watson […]
BALTIMORE – Kristin Watson did not play much volleyball during her freshman year at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) in 2015-16.
A two-time team Most Valuable Player at Eleanor Roosevelt, Watson saw just a smattering of time on the court her first season as a walk-on.
However everything slowly changed this fall. Watson worked relentlessly through the off-season and caught the attention of Coach Ian Blanchard and his staff. She earned more early-season playing time, and the sophomore eventually became a starter at libero and won many honors, including America East Defensive Specialist of the Year.
The Retrievers finished the season at 17-9 and lost to Albany in the conference tournament’s semifinals. Watson proved a big part of their success, and her drive and ability to learn impressed Blanchard.
“She’s a classic example of somebody who came in and just worked really, really hard,” Blanchard said. “She’s not afraid to make mistakes in an effort to make herself better. That is probably the single most important quality that’s missing in a lot of today’s athletes, but she has it, and it’s enabled her to improve exponentially.”
And so she did.
Watson played in parts of 21 matches and 50 sets and recorded 90 digs overall. During her sophomore season, Watson finished with 497 digs. That gave her an average of 5.12 per set – which ranked 22nd in the country in Division I, according to the NCAA’s official website. Watson’s average was 5.61 in conference play.
She turned in six of the school’s top 10 all-time performances for digs in a game/set, including a Nov. 6 match at Albany where Watson had 41 overall. That also was fifth in the nation for a five-set match this season, according to the NCAA’s site.
“I think I knew my potential,” said Watson, who’s a math major. “I knew I had the talent. I just needed to show them.”
Blanchard said the coaches saw how hard she worked during her freshman year and the spring. One moment in particular stuck with him. Blanchard said he put her into an early match, and Watson quickly made three bad passes.
She then came out and, when passing by Blanchard on the way to the bench, Watson apologized for letting him down.
“I remember when that happened. I got chills,” Blanchard said. “I have never appreciated an athlete more than I did in that particular moment. That just struck me for a nanosecond that, hey, this kid’s going to be special.”
In the spring, Watson was on campus with players working with coaches on serve-receive and defense. The coaches encouraged them to try different things and take risks, but to be aware that meant the ball could wind up spraying all over the gym.
That didn’t bother Watson. She made plenty of mistakes in that situation, but wasn’t afraid to try something new, which many players don’t like to do.
That impressed the coaches, and as this season began, her playing time slowly started to increase. Blanchard started inserting Watson regularly in the back row and soon realized her digs per set numbers were comparable to their starting liberos – so they eventually made her the starter there.
Watson quickly helped anchor the defense, earned Defensive Specialist of the Week honors in the conference five times and became a first-team All-Conference pick – the first Retriever in program history to win the conference defensive player of the year and the only defensive specialist to earn first or second-team all-conference honors.
She also was named the MVP of the Charm City Challenge; something unusual for defensive players and made the All-Tournament teams three straight weekends. The awards kept coming in.
“I wasn’t expecting anything (special) coming into the season,” Watson said. “I know the coaches were always pushing me. For me, I’m never satisfied. I think just literally I’m always pushing myself and not accepting less than the best.”
She’s now looking forward to next season and the future. Watson recently had a meeting with Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, the school’s president, to talk about her life and volleyball. She’s looking forward to connecting with him again.
But first, Watson is looking to find even more success as a junior next fall. It’s probably a safe bet that she’ll earn plenty of playing time as UMBC hopes for another season like the one that just ended.
“I never thought I (would win) this many awards,” Watson said. “I think it just helps my confidence. I know my team can trust me and rely on me as the libero and just being a good teammate, and that I’ll be there for them on and off the court.”