All in the family
Grundy Center volleyball boasts many family ties
GRUNDY CENTER — One of the things that makes sports so compelling is how relationships are played out when put under pressure.
In those situations, it’s the team who has the best emotional foundation and strongest chemistry who generally prevails, and something that can bolster that bedrock is already having a strong bond before ever setting foot on the court.
For two sets of individuals with the Grundy Center volleyball team, that bond comes naturally.
Sisters Kyah and Landry Luhring and the mother-daughter combination Lori and Kylie Willis serve as two core parts of the Spartans’ emotional and physical foundations, both on and off the court.
The Luhring sisters have experienced nothing but success in their two years playing for Grundy Center, as the team has made the state tournament each of Kyah’s first two years.
Landry said it’s a genuine blessing to play on such a grand stage with someone she’s been around all of her life.
“It’s just awesome that we are able to play together and for a second time making it down to state with my sister, like that’s just incredible,” Landry said. “Not many people get that opportunity to do that. I love having her on the court because we can just makes jokes and stuff and we know how to keep each other calm and we can talk through things on the back row like what we want to attack and what we think the other team is going to do.”
While Landry values the calming effect the sisters possess with each other, Kyah said their relationship has the opposite effect too.
“I also think that we hype each other up a lot,” Kyah said. “We see one thing and say ‘oh do this, or do that,’ and we really know what each other is thinking and seeing, so it’s always good to have someone else that is kind of thinking the same way as you.”
Kylie and Lori have a similar relationship on the court, as Kylie essentially serves as Lori’s surrogate on the court. Kylie said it’s great having someone as knowledgeable in the game of volleyball as not only her coach, but her mom.
“I can trust her a lot because I hear everything at home and in the gym and I know that she wants what’s best for me personally and the team and that will always be her number one priority,” Kylie said.
Like Landry, Lori said it’s almost a surreal feeling having a daughter experience so much success on the court while she is also coaching the team.
“For me, it just brings me joy to be able to experience the things we are experiencing as a team and have a daughter on the team as well,” she said. “I get to see her development up close and personal, I get to see her interactions with her teammates up close and personal, and I am able to guide her and make her a stronger player, a better player and I am able to work on her mentality with things.”
That unique experience of seeing a family member do something great for a team that also benefits you as a member of the team is something both pairs share, and Landry said when her sisters makes a play for the Spartans she feels a great sense of pride.
“When she gets a good dig, it just gets me super pumped up and I know that she will do everything in her power to get the ball up for me as a hitter, which is just amazing knowing that she has my back,” the elder Luhring said.
Kyah shares that sentiment with her sister and given their roles on the team as libero and hitter, there are moments where Kyah specifically sets up Landry for offensive success.
“It’s really cool when I get an assist to her, when I pass the ball up and she gets a kill I’m just like ‘yeah! Sisters!'” Kyah said enthusiastically.
Of course, being so close with a teammate or coach can obviously cause confrontations at times, something Kylie said she and her mother are no stranger to.
“Of course we butt heads like every mom and daughter do, but you have to learn to brush that aside because she’s your coach too and you have to be a team player,” Kylie said. “You can’t just go to your mom and say ‘we need this done,’ you have to know what’s best for your team and be a good team player.”
Lori is wired to continually think about things happening around volleyball, as many coaches are. She admitted that when they head home for the night, the coaching hat doesn’t necessarily come off, but Kylie welcomes the discussion.
“The poor thing doesn’t get any rest when it comes to getting coached because I am constantly coaching her,” Lori said of Kylie. “A lot of the time I’m harder on her, I probably yell at her more on things that she knows, but a lot of times I tell her ‘I say these things so the person next to you gets it. I can say it aggressively to you but I can’t say it aggressively to her but they’ll get the hint through you.'”
Lori said she learned ways to coach her daughter through watching other great Spartans coaches handle the situation, including former coach Darwin Sents and his daughters Kelsey and Riley.
“I learned that from a lot of different parent coaches, Grundy Center has had a lot of parent coaches so I’ve been able to learn what works and what doesn’t work,” Lori said. “It is tough because when we come home I continue the coaching sometimes a little too far, and there are times where I have to stop.”
Constantly being in contact with each other can fray some nerves, but ultimately it works out for the best, as these two recent state runs for Grundy Center has shown. Kyah said even before she was playing for the Spartans, she was watching her sister and how she handled her business.
“Watching her in the past and in club and all the tournaments, even when she was in the state tournament as a freshman,” Kyah said, “just watching her and knowing what to do and the way she acts really teaches me how I should act when I get up there and that’s what I do now.”
Since she’s now entering her third state tournament and final of her Grundy Center volleyball career, Landry said she has a simple message for Kyah and all the other underclassmen on the team. Don’t blink.
“Just live in the moment, don’t take anything for granted because it goes by super fast,” she said. “Honestly if you told me I was a freshman right now I’d probably believe you, it doesn’t feel like I’m a senior, but it’s just been a great experience and don’t take anything for granted.”
Grundy Center will start its run for a Class 2A title in the Iowa Girls’ State High School Volleyball Tournament with a first-round matchup against Sydney, starting at 4 p.m. on Wednesday at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids.