Editor’s note: Morgan Guge, 21, played and student assisted for the Kirkwood volleyball team from 2010-12. A 2010 graduate of Kennedy High School, Morgan will be starting her career in the culinary arts through Kirkwood’s program in January. Not only a foodie she is just as much a sports and health enthusiast.
By Morgan Guge, community contributor
It may be a given that collegiate athletes vary in skills that differ than other students at their schools.
The qualities of consistent drive and discipline allow most to succeed on the courts and fields as well as in the classroom. But what separates record-breaking players from their own teammates?
Kristen Hahn, the junior libero on No. 15-ranked Iowa State’s volleyball team, has an answer.
“I think one of the biggest qualities that athletes of my caliber share, is the determination and understanding that there is no limit to getting better,” said Hahn, a former Cedar Rapids Kennedy prep standout. “Knowing that coming out of high school you may have been the best at your school, but when you get to college you become an average Joe amongst other great athletes.
“We choose to take on the challenge of Division I athletics because we believe there is no limit to our abilities.”
Hahn is in a true league of her own at this point. On Monday, Hahn won her eighth Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honor, breaking the conference record for the most weekly awards in a single season. Hahn’s career honors total is 12, making her second in defensive awards in league history and third in total awards earned.
ISU enters Thursday’s NCAA tournament game on a 10-game winning streak, including a five-set upset of then-No. 3 Texas last Saturday.
“It was probably one of the best gifts we could get for our seniors,” Hahn said the win over Texas. “It shows the Big 12 and the volleyball world that Cyclone volleyball can be a Top 5 team in the nation.
“We have gotten better through November which is the most important part.”
Texas isn’t the only big gun ISU has taken out this season. In September, the Cyclones beat Nebraska, which was ranked No. 1 at the time.
“After losing to Nebraska last spring, I told coach that we were never losing to Nebraska again and that we deserve to be a Top 5 team and we can beat top 5 teams,” Hahn said. “Beating them this fall was a very proud moment for me and my teammates.
“Being able to be a part of such history and for me, a turning point in our program is amazing and so unreal. Not only was it sweet to beat Nebraska … it was even better to knock them off when they were ranked No. 1. Also a milestone for our team, since we had never beaten a No. 1-ranked team before. That week in practice, we worked extra hard and really just put in a lot of effort into every drill. We prepared for their hitters as well as their servers.”
Hahn remains the anchor of the team’s defense and morale.
“I have always had a motto that if there is a will there is a way, which applies largely to my effort towards digging balls,” she said. “If I see it, I can dig it. ‘See ball, dig ball’ is what I tell myself. I remind myself to just go after every ball no matter how difficult, how far away or how hard.”
Hahn doesn’t fit that mold of a Division I volleyball player. Saying she is solid 5-foot-6 — and that may be stretching it — Hahn needs to be a defensive standout when facing women across the net who average 6-1 with vertical jumps that send them out of the gym off an attack.
Hahn may have missed the tall gene, but she gained a whole lot of heart from parents Jesse and Marcia Hahn.
“I definitely pride myself on knowing that I worked hard for everything that I’ve gotten and my parents have always taught me that if you want something, you have to put hard work and sweat into getting it,” she said. “It makes me appreciate every little moment, award, game and everything else so much more.
“My family is one of the most important things in my life. My parents try to come to every game possible, all the home games. I know that if they cannot make it to a game that they are at home in front of the TV watching. They are always there for me and have supported me every single step of the way.
“Both my parents were raised on farms and playing sports was not something they got to partake in. My mom played high school basketball (6-player) and that was all she was allowed to do.”
Being a Cyclone is one thing that does run in the family. Both Jesse and Marcia are Iowa State alumni, along with her older brother, Kaleb.
“I love my university and being able to represent Iowa State and the state of Iowa as well,” Hahn said. “There is no other school I would want to play for and being a Cyclone is something I am so proud of and will say for the rest of my life. The people, the athletes, coaches and support for every single team at ISU is amazing and we probably have the best support system in the country.
“I know my family is proud as well to say that they are Cyclones and even my Hawkeye family members are proud to say I’m a Cyclone volleyball player.”
So what has Hahn been doing to make herself better, to set her apart from every other libero in the country and to make constant improvement to her game?
“I’ve been focusing a lot on my mental game this year and have seen large improvements in my control over my body,” she said. “I don’t know the real number but they say once you do something a crazy amount of times that it just becomes habit. Well passing and defense have become habitual for me, but one thing that keeps me from consistently performing at a high level is my mind.
“Passing and defensive movements are muscle memory. I know that if I can control my brain through the use of a mental training program that I created with the help of a book called ‘Ten Minute Toughness,’ that I will ultimately feel much better overall as a person and player. So before every game and practice, I go through my 10-minute mental training program to help get my mind focused.”
If Hahn keeps improving at this pace, other records could fall and her future goals may become reality.
“Past graduation, I want to train with the national team, as well as play in Europe,” she said. “The Olympics are definitely a goal as well. After I’ve exhausted all my athletic volleyball talent … I would love to coach collegiate volleyball and lead a team to a national championship.”
Hahn also stressed the importance of school and taking care of herself so she is able to continue to compete at a high level of play. A kinesiology major, she spends the majority of her free time studying or doing homework.
She said the most important thing is staying organized and scheduled.
“One piece of advice that I would give to any young athlete would be to never give up on your dreams,” Hahn said. “Set an ultimate goal and little goals you can achieve along the way. My ultimate goal is to win a national championship with goals I can reach along the way … to win a Big 12 championship, be an All-American and Big 12 libero of the year. Playing consistently is a goal I think about every single day.”
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