LINCOLN, Neb. — Kayla Banwarth got the call that she was being offered the Nebraska volleyball assistant coaching job on Christmas day. Despite originally telling Banwarth no, Coach John Cook called and offered the job in what she now calls the “best Christmas present ever.”
As for how it all came to be, Banwarth remembers reaching out to Cook during Dani Busboom Kelly’s press conference at Louisville. With Busboom Kelly departing Nebraska for a new opportunity, Banwarth saw it as a potential opportunity for herself.
“I texted him like, ‘Hey. Hi, I’m here,’” Banwarth said. “I originally reached out to him and it was kind of funny because right away he told me no, which is what I was expecting to hear because I’m not an experienced coach but then the 17th (of December) he called me and said, ‘We’re going to interview you on Monday.’ I was like, ‘What? OK.’ That whole process happened pretty fast and then he called me Christmas day and offered me the job.”
Banwarth – who played at Nebraska during the 2007-2010 seasons – always knew she wanted to coach. Getting the chance to coach for the Huskers was not something she expected to happen right away.
“Volleyball has been a part of my life since I was four, so it just seems like the natural next step for me,” Banwarth said. “To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to have this kind of opportunity right away and I was fully prepared to have to work my way up in coaching but you know once this offer comes up and this offer arises, it’s not something you pass up.”
As for the timing, it couldn’t have been better. Banwarth knew she was done playing professionally after competing in the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro.
“The things I set as a player I accomplished and then some,” Banwarth said. “I felt really at peace with the fact that I got what I wanted out of my professional career and I just felt like I needed to move on to other goals.”
With the goal to coach in mind, Banwarth spent the 2015-16 winter season as a volunteer coach with the Pepperdine men’s volleyball team. It provided the Dubuque, Iowa, native some experience in coaching and an opportunity to see what the life of a coach really looks like.
“I would wake up at 4:30 and I would drive about an hour and 15 minutes to Malibu and then I’d be in the office for about four hours doing video, plenty of practice, meeting with players,” Banwarth said. “They would practice from about 10 until 12 or 1 and then I would immediately drive an hour and a half back down to Anaheim and train. I’d lift for an hour and a half four days a week and then I’d train with Karch (Kiraly) on the court for about an hour and a half.
“By the time I got home, it was probably about 6 and I need a lot of sleep – I’m that person – so I’d have to go to bed right away and same thing the next day.”
The long days never deterred Banwarth though. Instead, it made it clear that coaching was the right next step in her career.
“It was something I always thought I’d naturally transition into and I wanted to experience it for a year and having that year at Pepperdine with those guys kind of solidified that thought that I want to coach and that was a memorable season for me,” Banwarth said. “Those guys made it pretty special and it kind of reassured me that coaching is what I want to do.”
Having known about her new job with Nebraska since Christmas, Banwarth has already found a place to live in Lincoln for her and her miniature Goldendoodle, Minnie. Her next task will be settling into her new role.
“My first priority is going to be getting to know the players and start building those relationships which is what I’m most excited for I think, to get to know them a little better and form that bond with them,” Banwarth said.
And once she passes the recruiting test, Banwarth will also be out on the road recruiting. She knows she has big shoes to fill from Busboom Kelly, but Banwarth is up to the challenge.
“Dani is a great recruiting and obviously a great coach so that’s kind of the big role I’m going to have to full is recruiting,” Banwarth said. “I’ll have to get on the road pretty soon and keep recruiting good players to this program.”
As for selling Nebraska, Banwarth believes she has pretty good insight to share.
“I know what it’s like to be a student-athlete at Nebraska myself and I can tell them I loved being a student-athlete here and I think having that amazing experience here,” Banwarth said. “To tell players about that and how great it is here, I think that will for sure help me.”
For now, Banwarth is just enjoying every second of her new role back in the place she now calls “home.”
“It’s amazing,” Banwarth said. “This is such a prestigious program and one of the best ball programs in the country so to be able to come back home – it’s become home for me – is really special and to be in the program that has been come such a huge part of my life, it’s great.”
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.