Austin Peay Sports Information
Clarksville, TN – Next time you get nervous, just remember how Lauren Henderson handles her nerves.
The 6-0 middle-blocker recently had what, for many, would be among the most nerve-wracking experiences of her life: trying out for the United States Women’s National Volleyball Team. And if nerves were ever a factor, she never let on.
“When I left, I told Ariel (Apolinario) and Coach (Taylor) Mott that there was no need for me to be nervous,” Henderson said. “There’s 247 other girls going that can be nervous for me. When you’re nervous, you play timid and play scared and act like you don’t know what you’re doing. Getting to play with the best, there was no time to be nervous.”Henderson, who completed her Austin Peay career last fall, would’ve been excused if she’d come down with a bit of anxiety. After all, this is the U.S. National Team – coached by the legendary Karch Kiraly, silver-medal winners at the 2012 London Olympics and one of the favorites for gold at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Games.
Henderson’s credentials are impressive – Ohio Valley Conference all-conference and all-tournament in 2013 and a three-year starter for the Lady Govs. But with athletes representing the big schools from the SEC, ACC and Pac-12, among others, an undersized middle from an OVC school would surely go overlooked.
“There’s always a stipulation that coaches will be drawn to big-name, high-major schools” said Henderson. “I just wanted to prove that even though I didn’t go to a big school in a big conference, I am good. I wanted to be more competitive in my play to prove myself.
“My main goal was to represent where I come from. Yeah, I come from a small conference but it’s gritty. I’m gritty. We play nasty and everyone is aggressive. I wanted to show what the OVC is all about and educate people with my play.”
Old foes from her days at Austin Peay suddenly became teammates and reliable on-court counterparts. Henderson was one of three OVC athletes represented, joined by Tennessee Tech’s Courtney Smith and incoming Murray State freshman Kaitlyn Embrey. Henderson spent time with Lipscomb duo Lauren Ford and Jewell Dobson and found herself often sharing the court with ETSU’s Megan Devine.
“It was comforting knowing the skill and talent level of people like (Devine), people I had played against before,” Henderson said. “I could rely on her because I knew where she’d set up at; playing with familiar faces was more comforting. Having the two girls from the OVC there was exciting as well; I didn’t know they’d be there.”
The facility in Colorado Springs – home to not only USA Volleyball but the training center for 14 other sports including swimming, basketball and wrestling – was the site of Henderson’s first “Is this for real?” moment.
“When you check in they take your photo and put it on your scan card, which is your ID, meal card and room key,” she said. “I put it on and that’s when it all became real for me.”
“I thought I was doing really well,” Henderson said. “I was going out to both pins, blocking a girl who was 6-5. I felt really good, because I had been worried about blocking girls who were three or four inches taller than me – I was one of the shortest middles there. After the first day, I felt like I was top-five in my group and I thought I was there throughout most of the second day as well.
“Everyone wants the same thing in that situation; you’re all competing for the same spots. During a regular Austin Peay practice it’s competitive, but if you didn’t bring your A-game (in Colorado Springs) at every session, they’d just check you off and overlook you.”
Henderson should know where she stands with the national team by the middle of March; if she doesn’t make the roster this season, she plans to return next year for tryouts. She also made contacts with several professional coaches with an eye on a professional career overseas and seems at the precipice of a long post-Austin Peay career in volleyball.
“It was really fun,” Henderson said of her time in Colorado Springs. “It was exciting to play with the best in the nation. I did the best I could with the opportunities I was given that weekend.”