Performing on a global stage: Kristen Hahn transitions from collegiate to international volleyball

Max Dible

In April, Kristen Hahn was a student-athlete. By May, she was a member of the U.S. women’s national volleyball team and starting in her first-ever qualifying match.

After trying out for the national team in late February, Hahn got a call during spring break from USA women’s head coach Karch Kiraly informing her that a spot had opened up on the team.

By early May, she was in Anaheim, Calif., for her first days of training. Shortly thereafter she joined the national team in Colorado Springs, Colo., for the world championship qualifiers.

“It was just one of those opportunities that opened up for me and I could not pass it up,” Hahn said. “It has been a very fast process for me. I kind of got thrown into training and dove in head first.”

Hahn said the theme of her last few weeks has been blind leaps into the unknown, but that it was all worth it the first time she took to the court in the red, white and blue.

On May 15 against Guatemala, Hahn started as the libero in her first-ever international match. She said the emotion she felt listening to a rendition of the national anthem while about to compete for her country was not something for which she was prepared.

“It was kind of an overwhelming experience,” Hahn said. “It was very humbling and there was a lot of pride and passion. It strengthens your love of the country and definitely of the sport.”

Hahn said that when she actually began playing, there were significant adjustments to be made as the international style of volleyball, as well as the rules, are different than they are at the NCAA level.

“We were not sure what we were going to see,” Hahn said. “I did not get to do my typical routine that I am used to and was thrown onto the court without a lot of reps. It was very challenging and definitely a learning experience.”

Hahn proved to be a quick study as Team USA claimed victory. The team went on to win the qualifying tournament, cementing its position in the upcoming world championships with Hahn starting every match after her arrival.

Hahn’s rapid ascension to national volleyball prominence was more difficult than it would have been for others because of the position she plays. At the libero position, only four players are selected compared to the eight or ten players chosen at other positions.

Liberos are specialized players that focus mostly on defense. The libero must wear a contrasting jersey color than his or her teammates and has many restrictions on his or her play.

“Liberos are known for passing and defense and being vocal leaders,” Hahn said. “I have always thought that my position is to try and make other people around me the best that they can be.”

ISU volleyball head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch coached Hahn at Iowa State and said Hahn was made to function in the role of libero.

“She is very determined, feisty, competitive, a very hard worker, intense — everything you would want out of a libero, that is what she is,” Johnson-Lynch said.

Johnson-Lynch added that Hahn’s physical gifts of speed and her ability to react quickly make Hahn a defensive force and suit her well in her role with the national team.

Hahn said she is a vocal leader both on and off the court and that she derives the most satisfaction from her teammates succeeding around her while she contributes to that success.

She added that most of her teammates are college-aged and recently graduated, which has made the ultra-fast transition smoother.

“A lot of people are coming into the gym at different times so you are constantly introducing yourself to someone new,” Hahn said. “This team has helped me feel a little more welcome and comfortable, which has been really big in me feeling confident and at home. It is scary moving out to a city where you do not really know anyone.”

Leaving behind her school and her family was not the easiest thing for Hahn, but she said the people in her life have backed her all the way.

“My family is really overwhelmed as well,” Hahn said. “They have been extremely supportive and helped prepare me. They have been understanding of my stresses and very encouraging. It was kind of cool for us to experience this as a family.”

After qualifying for the world championships, Hahn said she has now turned her focus to improving daily as she will remain in California and train for the summer.

Despite her performance, Hahn said she is not guaranteed a spot on the world championship team or the Olympic team after that but that she is now in a position to compete to make any roster compiled by the national team and to play in any tournament in which Team USA participates.

Hahn said that those are exactly her intentions.

“My main goal during college was to get out here and train with the national team,” Hahn said. “My next goal is to play in the Olympics and pursue those dreams.”