Outside hitter Kristen Etterbeek didn’t begin playing volleyball until her sophomore year of high school, but her decision to stick with the sport has paid off for Penn. She tied for fourth on the team in kills as a freshman, and ranks second this year.

Credit: Ellen Frierson / The Daily Pennsylvanian

For prospective athletes, choosing a sport can be like choosing a major: few inherently know which one to pursue.

Yet it’s rare that one becomes talented enough to play two sports at the Division-I level. Such is the case for sophomore volleyball player Kristen Etterbeek, who could just as well have been a collegiate tennis player.

Etterbeek’s father was a tennis All-American at Michigan, so it’s not surprising that she has a knack for the sport and picked it up because of her athletic genes.

“Kristen was very determined to try to excel at something … and she’d just play a lot of tennis,” said her dad, Jeff Etterbeek. “With her athleticism, she could compete and play with some of the very best players in the state.”

That skill would propel Etterbeek to a first-team All-State selection in Michigan following her junior and senior seasons. Along the way, Etterbeek also decided to pick up volleyball — a decision that happened a bit by chance.

“I started playing in sophomore year of high school,” Etterbeek said. “Some of my friends played, and [it] looked like fun.”

She recognized her six-foot stature worked to her advantage as she quickly excelled in volleyball. In her junior year — just her second year playing the sport — Etterbeek had established herself as one of her team’s best players, eventually leading Holland Christian High School to the state championship. It was at this point that her decision on whether to focus on tennis or volleyball truly began.

Following the title run, her father put a call into the volleyball coach at Michigan and asked that the coach take a look at her. He was surprised to hear the Wolverines had already decided who they were recruiting.

Etterbeek’s father said when he was in high school, “recruiting [was] a lot different,” and that most schools did not recruit athletes until after their junior years.

What happened next was the breaking point.

“It was at that time, really,” he recalled, “that she came to me rather upset, and said ‘Dad, I don’t know what to do: to play tennis or to play volleyball.’ And I said, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’”

The two decided to travel to a tennis academy to get an outside opinion. They concluded that Etterbeek could play D-I if she decided to train her senior year. But as her dad recounts, it was when they saw four 12-year-olds there playing better than anyone could have expected that she decided to stick with volleyball.

Here, one could imagine that Etterbeek’s father, being a tennis player, would have pushed her back toward tennis. But in fact, the opposite was true.

“[My dad] could see that volleyball was really where my heart was,” Etterbeek said. “He supported that full-force.”

Eventually, Etterbeek turned her sights on Penn. She said she “really fell in love with the team,” in a matter of no time.

And team unity ultimately drove her to volleyball.

“She enjoyed the team concept a lot more than the individual,” her father said.

Etterbeek agreed. “My team is why I work so hard,” she said.

Since arriving at Penn, Etterbeek has become an essential part of coach Kerry Carr’s squad, appearing in every match her freshman year and averaging the second-highest number of kills per set this season for the Quakers.

Making decisions is difficult because the future is always uncertain. But hindsight is 20-20, and from Etterbeek and her dad’s perspective, volleyball — Penn — “was the right choice.”

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