Ever since hitting a growth spurt during her sophomore year at La Costa Canyon High School in Encinitas, Karsta Lowe has stood out in the crowd.
She stands 6-feet-4-inches tall, leading many to assume she plays basketball. Close, but not exactly.
Lowe, 27, plays the opposite position for the U.S. Women’s National Volleyball Team where she is one of the tallest members of the squad.
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While her height is an obvious advantage on the court, it hasn’t always been easy to deal with outside of volleyball.
“I would say I was pretty insecure. It was hard being 6-feet-3-inches most of high school. It was definitely hard being that tall and not feeling super confident,” Lowe said.
But somewhere between high school and college at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she walked on and eventually earned a scholarship, Lowe’s confidence increased. She embraced her height just as she started dominating on the court en route to an All-American senior season.
Today, she encourages “tall girls” to “hang in there” because they’ll eventually find their rhythm.
Thing is, Lowe’s height is just a small part of what makes her great.
When asked what stands out most about Lowe, U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly said it’s her “incredible competitive fire." Not a bad place to start when you’re trying to impress the man who many consider being the greatest volleyball player of all time.
Lowe said her drive to compete was the most important tool in her rise to volleyball stardom because she was never the most talented kid on her youth club teams.
In fact, she was almost always selected on the “B” teams and it wasn’t until her junior year at UCLA where it all finally came together.
“You never know when your time is going to come and I would always stick with it,” Lowe said.
Shortly after graduating college Lowe was selected as part of the 2016 Rio Olympic team which went on to earn a bronze medal.
But, after the 2016 Olympics, just as Lowe was hitting the height of her career, she made a shocking announcement. The volleyball player who’d always “stuck with it” was now walking away from the sport.
“I think a lot of people were surprised. It’s not the normal route to come to the gym and then explore a different path” said Kiraly.
Lowe went back to school and enrolled in a 3-year program studying landscape architecture at the University of Southern California (USC) (which she admits was kind of strange being a UCLA Bruin at heart). She was getting on with life after sport and even though many of her close friends questioned her decision she was excited for the next chapter.
But, after a year and a half away from volleyball, the fire to compete returned and this time it was stronger than ever.
“I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be doing what I was doing,” Lowe said.
Kiraly welcomed Lowe back and said her time away helped her get the clarity she needed to see how far she can go in the sport.
If she makes the Olympic team, she’ll have the opportunity to go where no player in U.S. history has gone before: the top of the Olympic medal stand.
Indoor volleyball made its Olympic debut in 1964 and the U.S. Women’s National Team is still looking for its first gold medal.
Kiraly, who writes out detailed practice plans on a whiteboard inside Anaheim’s “American Sports Centers” where the national team's train, also writes out the team’s mission: “Play this game better than we ever played it before."
Lowe's mindset is much different now than it was four years ago in Rio when she didn’t really appreciate the opportunity.
“This time around it feels a lot more intentional and very purposeful,” said Lowe, who will have to beat out several of her current teammates to make the Olympics.
She is 1 of 3 marquee players at her position. Kiraly will only be able to carry 2 of them onto the Olympic roster which will be announced sometime in June.
While the competition is stiff, Lowe is embracing the challenge.
“Of all the aspects of my life, I’m pretty present with volleyball. This is the here and now," Lowe said.
She always had the height needed to see the court clearly, now she has the perspective to enjoy the ride.