Freshman Lauren Demos has made quite an impact on the 15th-ranked UC San Diego Women's Volleyball team in her first year. Not only has the 6-1 middle blocker started all 23 matches for the 19-4 Tritons, she is third on the squad with 150 kills, has recorded 17 aces and leads the team in both solo blocks (11) and block assists (62). "I wasn't really planning on Lauren starting this year but she rose to the top in pre-season, has stayed consistent and continued to improve weekly," says Head Coach Ricci Luyties. "She has a 'never quit mentality' and her court presence helps get the team going. She's definitely not playing like a freshman anymore." With the final three regular season games on tap this week and the post-season looming, the Newport Beach native spent some time talking about her team, the transition from high school to college volleyball and what the future might hold for the Tritons.
Q-Your team has won its last nine matches in a row. In your opinion, what have been the strengths of the team over these past four weeks?
DEMOS-We have been practicing in a game-like manner and have come to realize that we can't have a "light-switch" mentality and turn it on when it is game time. We are investing time in goal setting, team chemistry, and the individual responsibility of giving all that you can give to the team each day; those intangible things have been our strengths in the past weeks. We have done a great job of implementing them in the gym each day at practice in an effort to carry them over to game time.
Q-This latest winning streak came on the heels of a stretch where the team lost four times in a five-match span. What changed?
DEMOS-When we were at Cal State East Bay a few weeks ago, we were down 2-0 and nothing was clicking. All of a sudden we recognized that we weren't smiling and having fun. We were playing like six individuals rather than a cohesive unit. Although it was hard at first, we pasted smiles on our faces and really focused on playing with enthusiasm, playing for each other, and taking care of our side of the net. We came back to win that match and we haven't lost since. One of our main focuses has become our chemistry and the atmosphere when we are playing, and when we all buy into having fun, great things have been happening!
Q-All indicators point towards UCSD being invited to the NCAA West Regionals in two weeks. What are your feelings as the playoffs become more of a reality?
DEMOS-I am so excited! We have worked very hard to put ourselves in a great position for Regionals. I still don't think that this team has peaked yet and I believe that our best volleyball is still ahead of us.
When we are playing together and playing with a purpose we are a force to be reckoned with. I honestly believe that we have a shot at winning Regionals. That being said, as a freshman this is all new to me and although I love the the thrill of a "do or die" bracket, I would be lying if I said that I wasn't a bit nervous too.
Roxie Brunsting told me once that we can always have confidence in how hard we work, and because the team has worked so hard this season, we can go into Regionals confident that we have what it takes.
Q-As a freshman, what has been the biggest adjustment you've had to make moving from club/high school volleyball to the collegiate level?
DEMOS-I am very thankful that I came from programs at Laguna Beach VBC and Newport Harbor that were fast, rigorous, and competitive on the national scale; they prepared me as much as it was possible for making the jump to the collegiate level. However, I still had to make an adjustment to the system that Coach Luyties runs and the technical details of my game that needed to be changed in order to fit into that system. My footwork paths, spacing with the setters, and blocking movements, for example, needed to be adjusted in order to mesh with the way that the returners played. It is an ongoing process but I am pleased with how I have adjusted thus far.
Q-Your first day of practice at UCSD, what was your biggest surprise?
DEMOS-The first day of practice started off with a running test that I had been training for for weeks in the summer time. As much as I attempted to prepare, there is nothing quite like seeing Coach with a stopwatch and lining up next to your teammates on the end line with your stomach in knots and adrenaline pumping. It was rough, as most conditioning tests are, but what surprised me the most was the immense encouragement, and support that I felt from my teammates whom I hardly knew at that point. The girls were full of Bible verses of encouragement, pats on the back, and phrases to fire me up. As the new kid on the block, I expected there to be a gap between me and the returners; I expected to have to pass that test on my own. I quickly came to find out that I wouldn't have to do anything alone again, these girls were always going to be by my side.
Q-Both you and another true freshman, Amber Hawthorne, have stepped right into the starting lineup. How has that chemistry with the upperclassmen worked out?
DEMOS-I am still amazed at how quickly Amber and I gelled with the older girls. The chemistry has been absolutely phenomenal and I often times get the feeling that we have all been playing together longer than just a few short months. Granted, Amber and I have had to work very hard to immediately perform in a collegiate system and earn the respect of the upperclassmen, but I am proud of how smoothly it has gone. I love nothing more than to be out there with those girls, and I recognize the honor that it is to be playing alongside them. I have learned so much from playing with them; the experience that Amber and I are gaining this season will surely help us over the next years and I am excited to journey through my collegiate career with her.
Q-What's the most valuable lesson or advice you've received from a returning player?
DEMOS-With five graduating seniors, I have really tried to retain every ounce of wisdom that the older girls have given me. I have a bulletin board with lots of quotes from my teammates in addition to other more famous great minds. Roxie has been such a source of knowledge for me and I value her insight immensely. It is hard to pick her most valuable piece of advice, but she once told me, "Remember to enjoy and love where you are at even though you are always trying to be better." This gives me a sense of peace and happiness in the midst of a constant uphill battle to be the best student, player, teammate, and daughter that I can be.
Q-How does Coach Ricci Luyties compare with other coaches you've had? How has he helped your game?
DEMOS-Coach Luyties is a legendary player and a phenomenal coach that I believe really understands the workings of an athlete's mind. He gives less feedback and lets us play through things, allowing us to work them out on our own. The feedback that he gives is meaningful and applicable the very next play. This instills a sort of confidence in his players, and it is evident that he really trusts and believes in the girls that he puts out there. Technically, he has helped me to improve a lot in just a short amount of time, but even more than that he is helping to instill a confidence in myself that I haven't necessarily felt from a coach before. It is doing wonders for my game.
Q-What is the most difficult aspect of the middle blocker position?
DEMOS-I have always been a middle blocker and so I don't know anything different, but it's a lot of work. Being a middle is tough physically: you have to be up in transition on every play and be able to read and react both vertically and laterally to the offense on the other side in a fraction of a second. Middles usually have less offensive attempts than a pin player, and one interesting aspect of a middle's success is how well they can hold the blockers so that their teammates can score. If I get up in the air and don't get set the ball but Katie, Hillary, or Roxie only has one blocker and gets a kill, I know that I did my job successfully! A selfless mindset is essential to being a middle.
Q-How much "choreography" is involved in the typical collegiate volleyball offense? Explain to the novice fan what happens once the other team serves the ball.
DEMOS-Our setters give us hand signals prior to the serve that tell us what specific set we are supposed to hit. Roxie and Amber do a great job of coordinating our offense and they always have a great plan for helping us to score. The plays that they choose to run depend on where we start passing on the court and how we can deceive the other team, while keeping in mind who our best weapon is at the time.
There is usually quite a bit of crossing of hitters and running inside or outside in order to achieve this. If the other team gets on a serving run we usually shift around and change up the play to give our offense a new look. However, there is always an aspect of impromptu to an offensive play because of the variety of the pass. Collegiate volleyball offense is quite the art, if you ask me!
Q-What challenges have you experienced in balancing your academic responsibilities and being on the volleyball team?
DEMOS-I was realistic with myself and knew that it was going to be difficult, but it has been very hard to balance it all and maintain the standards that I have set for myself. The most difficult part is the mental fatigue. I take pride in being "checked in" whenever I am on the court, watching video, visualizing, or goal setting, but often times I am so mentally spent after practice or a match that it becomes difficult to muster up the mental fortitude to read a 20-plus page article on French art history! My homework has to be done not just so that I can check it off of my to-do list, but done to the very best of my ability. In essence, you have to be on top of your mental game all day long, both athletically and academically.
Q-Are there personal traits or skills that help with both aspects of your college life?
DEMOS-My enthusiasm and faith have helped immensely both athletically and academically. I feel that if you love what you are doing you are going to do it better and more thoroughly, no matter if it is a specific drill in practice or writing a midterm paper. If you are joyful and enthusiastic about each task or opportunity you are given, great things are going to happen. My Christian faith has helped me to find purpose and joy in even the most rudimentary tasks.
Q-You're a political science major in Roosevelt College. What has been your most interesting class during the fall quarter?
DEMOS-I have thoroughly enjoyed my POLI 12 class: Introduction to International Relations. that I am taking with teammate Edrina Nazaradeh. We have been learning about the causes of war and exploring the different political actors and political systems that influence both interstate conflict and periods of peace. Professor Roeder is phenomenal and has given tools that allow me to digest and interpret the events of the current international state through a different lens that I would have prior to this quarter.
Q-Did you play any other sports as a youngster? What got you started with volleyball and what's kept you playing?
DEMOS-My heart has always been in volleyball. My sister Carey, who was also played middle blocker, is nearly eight years older than me, so I started going to club volleyball tournaments when I was just two years old.
I did a lot of growing up on the hardwood floor of random volleyball gyms and I always wanted to get as close to the "big girls' bench" as I could. I wanted to be in the action and I wanted to play. I feel like my love for the game, the sheer thrill of competition, and the nature of the sport are innate to my being and I couldn't imagine my life without it, but that is because I never have had to! I started playing club in fifth grade at age 10 and by then I already knew that I wanted to play collegiately. It's great to think that I am living out my childhood dream!
Q-Was there ever a competitive thing between the two of you? What impact did she have on your career?
DEMOS-I am a lot younger than Carey so we never had any competitive rifts or went head-to-head. She has impacted my career immensely and has been such a phenomenal role model for me as I have grown into the person and athlete that I am today. When I was younger I wanted to be just like her, and as I grew I strove to be even better. I used to follow her around the house and wear her old jerseys to tournaments. I can ask her technical questions, vent to her and celebrate with her, and she will be completely honest with me in all of it. She and her husband live in New York City now and it has been very hard not having them in the stands cheering me on as I had envisioned. I am thankful for Live Stats and the occasional video streaming she can still have as big of an impact on my collegiate career as she did in getting me to this point.
Q-You came from Newport Beach to La Jolla for college. What are the best things about both locales? Anything you miss from home?
DEMOS-Southern California is paradise and I am very thankful that it worked out for me to stay and go to school here. We are blessed with a fabulous ocean view from our home in Newport and now when I walk from RIMAC to ERC I get to experience the same awe of the ocean's beauty.
Newport and La Jolla both boast great food and lots of activities, which I love. Despite their similarities, I miss the comforts of home, like my big bed, neatly folded laundry, the smell of fresh flowers and the stocked pantry. I have been home once since the season began and I literally kissed the hardwood floor when I entered and ran around the house in appreciation of the little things that I had taken for granted before. But more than anything I miss the constant interaction with my family, because when all of those comforts are taken away, that family relationship becomes even more essential.
Q-When you're not playing volleyball, going to class or studying, how do you like to spend your time?
DEMOS-To be honest, I usually take a "power nap" or head to Cafe Ventanas to refuel my body because those three activities are so draining! In season it is hard to have time for much else! But I absolutely love to read. As corny as it may sound, I love the smell of ink on the pages and the crisp edge of the paper between my fingers. I love to escape for a little while into the world of another character and experience a different life through their eyes. Right now I am reading Little Bee by Chris Cleave, which is an artfully written story about the intertwining of the lives of a British woman and a Nigerian refugee. I can't wait to dive back into it!
Q-What kind of potential do you think this team has moving into the NCAA Playoffs?
DEMOS-I am confident that this team has what it takes to win Regionals and advance into the NCAA Playoffs. I believe so much in the wisdom of our coaches and in the physical, mental, and emotional capabilities of these girls, that if we stay focused and driven there isn't anything stopping us from hoisting a National Championship banner in RIMAC. Someone is going to win the Championship this year. Why not us?
Previous Q & A Articles
Ellen Wilson (Women's Soccer) October 1, 2011
Brian Donohoe (Men's Water Polo) September 4, 2011
Roxanne Brunsting (Women's Volleyball) August 19, 2011
Jon Pascale (Men's Soccer) August 4, 2011
Jon Pascale (Men's Soccer) August 4, 2011
Vincent Nguyen (Tennis) July 1, 2011
Patti Gerckens (Softball) May 26, 2011
Blake Tagmyer (Baseball) May 11, 2011
Theresa Richards (Women's Track & Field) April 27, 2011
Austin West (Men's Tennis) April 17, 2011
Matt Herman (Men's Swimming & Diving) March 12, 2011
Christine Merrill (Women's Track & Field) June 14, 2010