In team sports, each member of the squad plays a specific role. And those roles, no matter how big or small, are very important to the overall success of the team.
A prime example of players who are filling specific roles for the betterment of the squad shows up with the sophomore class on this year’s Kentucky volleyball team.
Sophomore Azhani Tealer played well as a freshman and has been asked to move to middle blocker this season. That poses a challenge for the Tealer, who is much shorter than a typical middle blocker, but she is willing to do what’s best for her team.
“When we first talked about it, I was very confused when they brought it to my attention,” Tealer said. “I was like, ‘what do you mean? I’m 5-10’. We’ve been working on it for a while now, so I feel a lot more comfortable and I’m excited to get going.”
Tealer played the position for the first time in UK’s two matches against Tennessee, and she acquitted herself very nicely. In two matches, the Grand Prairie, Texas, native had 16 kills and six total blocks in seven sets played. In the first match of the season, Tealer had nine kills and no errors on 13 attempts (.692 hitting percentage) in leading the Cats to a sweep of the Lady Vols.
This season, Tealer, who is known as “Z” by her teammates, knows that she will need to be creative with her play to help her team.
“I have learned that I have to impact the game in other ways,” Tealer said. “Playing right side, you’re going to get set a little more and you have different roles and now I have different responsibilities. I have to learn how I can change the game when I’m not being set. I think I’m doing well.”
Proving that players can impact the team even without having a large role on the court is Kentucky’s other sophomore, Maddie Berezowitz. And while her position may not involve big statistical numbers, her impact on the team is huge.
Despite not playing in every match, Berezowitz is one of the leaders on the team, a role she relishes as a member of this team.
“On the court, (my role is) going to be just to step up,” Berezowitz said. “My off the court role is to kind of guide the underclassmen. Taking the freshmen under my wing and showing them what UK is all about.”
And how does Berezowitz go about leading others?
“I think I try really hard to gravitate toward everyone,” Berezowitz said. “That’s just a strength of who I am. The more togetherness I can provide it just helps the culture in general.”
The sophomores are admittedly good friends, and they also admire each other.
“I remember last year, we had this survey and the question was, who is the best teammate and I didn’t even think about it, it’s Z,” Berezowitz said. “It shows when she’s willing to play any position the coaches ask of her. That’s the kind of person she is. Every time she steps between the lines, you know what you’re going to get.”
Tealer thinks the same thing about Berezowitz.
“Maddie is small, but she has a big personality,” Tealer said. “Everyone respects her. She’s the hardest worker on our team. She’s always in the gym. I think she definitely leads by example and by what she says.”
While their roles on the team are vastly different, both Tealer and Berezowitz will have a huge impact on the Kentucky volleyball team this season and into the future. And both will be key components to the success of the UK team both this season and over the next couple of seasons.