With about 30 minutes to game time, the Lady ’Eaters gather themselves in the locker room of the Bren Events Center. Faint footsteps can be heard as fans file in to the stands and take their seats while the opposing team warms up on the court below. Starte
r Kristin Winkler can be found with earphones intact and scouting report in hand, listening to her traditional game-day songs: “Till I Collapse” by Eminem and Jason Aldean’s “She’s Country.” The junior libero has her sights set on major goals.
“It is a goal of mine to lead the team and the league in digs this season,” Winkler said. Averaging 5.32 digs per game, Winkler is off to a fast start totaling 218 digs thus far as she leads the Lady ’Eaters in the category.
Winkler grew up in the Bay Area in a household of athletes. The youngest of four, Kristin joined her brothers and sister in the pool for competitive swimming. However, Kristin knew that something was missing. It wasn’t until she was in the third grade when Winkler stepped foot onto a volleyball court. She has never looked back since.
“I love the team aspect of volleyball,” she said. “You don’t get that in swimming.”
The competitive and driven player that now sports the number 8 jersey for UCI began her career at a young age with recreational volleyball and joined a club team in the eighth grade.
Originally an outside hitter, Kristin made the transition to libero her junior year at St. Francis High School when her ability to pass drew much attention.
“I loved the switch,” she said. “I love the feeling of being in control of the back row, and having the pressure to be the best passer and the best defender.”
As a prelude to her career as an Anteater, Winkler averaged 4.7 digs a game her senior year, subsequently leading the league in the category. A standout on her high school squad, Kristin was named an All-Western Catholic Athletic League first-team honoree and was named to the Central Coast Section second-team.
Considering her options as an incoming college freshman, UCI’s volleyball program stood out to the Palo Alto Daily first-team all-league choice. At the time Winkler was deciding which school to commit to, volleyball legend Paula Weishoff was to join the UCI Volleyball program as Head Coach for the Women’s team. With a strong program in the previous seasons and the opportunity to work with the Olympic veteran and reputable Weishoff, Winkler committed to UCI.
In her freshman season, Kristin continued to draw attention as she started in 30 matches and led the team in digs with 479. As a sophomore Kristin held onto her status as team leader in digs with 532 and tied the UCI record for digs in a single match with 32. Totaling 1,011 digs as an ’Eater, Winkler ranked ninth in UCI records for career digs.
Now in her junior season, Kristin names herself as her biggest competitor. “It’s all about how far I’m willing to go to make myself the best I can be.” After an 8-22 record last season, the ’Eaters upped their winter workout schedule and were determined to come back for the 2011-2012 season as a force to be reckoned with.
“We ran sprints and lifted like crazy. We were exhausted, but pushed through it. If we ever get sidetracked, we know how to pull each other back.”
The energy and closeness of the team this year is apparent and noted by Winkler as a unique aspect that sets UCI apart from other squads.
So where does the record-setting ’Eater see herself after UCI? Winkler has placed a career overseas in her mind, as she considers a future in professional volleyball in countries such as Switzerland or Germany. If she were to have a career outside volleyball, Winkler still sees herself having a future related to sports.
“I want a job that works with athletes, maybe marketing, or possibly as an agent. I want to be around sports as much as possible. Whatever job has that option would be a great job.”
Recalling a game in her freshman season, Winkler declares a night of sweet victory against long-time rival Cal State Long Beach as her favorite moment in her career thus far. At the time, the two teams were tied for first in the Big West Standings as the No. 21 ranked ’Eaters faced off against the No. 25-ranked ’49ers. Long Beach took the first match 29-27 but the ’Eaters answered by taking the second and third set. Long Beach fought to stay alive in the fourth match and ended it ahead with a score of 25-18. Pushed to the fifth set, the two teams traded points at the start of the final frame and reached a deadlock at 12-12. The Lady ’Eaters then ended a ’49er run and an ’Eater hit gave Irvine match point. Following a UCI attacking error, an ’Eater tip over the Long Beach block resulted in an eruption of excitement from a packed Crawford Hall as the Lady ’Eaters walked away with the win and celebrated with an elated crowd.
“The energy was unbelievable,” Winkler said “Our whole team stormed the court, the packed crowd was screaming on their feet and everyone had so much adrenaline even though we just played an exhausting five-gamer!”
This is the kind of energy Winkler brings to the team and to the game. When asked what volleyball means to her, the enthusiastic libero says, “Volleyball is fun, and I love doing it everyday. It has taught me how to be a stronger person and to really push my limits.”
As she continues to push limits, Winkler is doing great things for UCI.