By Rob Gray
AMES — She digs, she serves, she leads.
Just try to find a flaw in former Kennedy volleyball star Kristen Hahn’s body of work as one of the most celebrated liberos in Iowa State history.
It will end up becoming a pointless and fruitless exercise.
“She just does everything you could ask for,” said Cyclones coach Christy Johnson-Lynch, whose team begins its eight straight NCAA Tournament run with Friday’s 4:30 p.m. match against Colorado at Minneapolis. “She wants to win so badly and she’s so driven. She’ll do anything to achieve that.”
Hahn’s four-year college career has produced stunning numbers and countless accolades.
Monday, she earned her third straight Big 12 libero of the year award — an accomplishment mirrored only by former teammate Ashley Mass (2007-10).
Hahn’s the only libero in Big 12 history to be unanimously voted first-team all-conference twice, and she enters the Cyclones’ (18-9) first-round match against the Buffaloes (17-13) averaging a league-best 5.73 digs per set, which also ranks third nationally.
But numbers can obscure.
Peel away the shimmering statistics Hahn has produced and her true on-court self emerges.
She’s a mentor, though it’s a role she’s grown into.
“(It’s) figuring out what my teammates need from me, when and where,” said Hahn, who enters Friday on a school-record 66-match streak with at least 10 digs. “It’s always a learning process and it never stops. It’s continuous learning and I still think I have a lot to go.”
The same could be said for her senior year.
Hahn’s most memorable season wound through Minneapolis.
As a sophomore, she helped the unseeded Cyclones beat Northern Iowa and then host Minnesota en route to an Elite Eight appearance.
Few outside the program saw that coming.
Could a similar upset-laden route be carved deep into the tournament?
“We’re going to push as hard as we can and go as far as we can,” Hahn said.
That’s been Hahn’s mantra since she showed up on campus in 2010.
Back then, she absorbed lessons from Mass.
The past two seasons, she’s aided sophomore setter and libero Caitlin Nolan in her journey from newcomer to important contributor.
“I just hope when I’m gone she always feels comfortable asking me for help, or just has learned a lot just from watching like I did,” Hahn said.
Consider it done.
“It’s been a really cool experience,” Nolan said. “Above all, (she’s) kind of just a friend — understanding how to talk to me, understanding how to talk to different people.”
As a young player, Hahn said she turned her emotions inward.
If anger stirred, it simmered inside.
Now she shares her joys and frustrations — always in an effort to edify, rather than simply criticize.
“Christy’s definitely been really helpful with that and letting me know when’s a good time to sat something — when I can get on my teammates and what teammates I can get on and how they’re going to respond to that,” said Hahn, who’s maintained a 3.4 grade point average as a Kinesiology/pre-physical therapy major. “This year I’ve been a little more stern, like, ‘We need to get that up, you need to have that, I’m expecting that of you.’ When I was a freshman, it was, ‘What do I do?’”
That question was put to rest long ago.
And the answer — she digs, she serves, she leads — won’t change Friday or beyond.
Hahn eventually plans to assist geriatric patients as a physical therapist.
After college, she hopes to earn a spot on the U.S. national team before giving professional volleyball in Europe a go.
“I want to travel,” Hahn said. “Might as well when I’m young.”
Johnson-Lynch likes her chances, despite a surplus of locally-grown liberos on the European scene.“I think she has unlimited potential,” Johnson-Lynch said. “She still can get better and she’s already pretty good, so that will be fun to see.”