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Graduate defensive specialist Karis Beasley prepares for the next serve.

Graduate student Karis Beasley can be seen on the volleyball court in both an offensive and defensive position. With many years of experience under her belt, Beasley has become a leader for the JMU volleyball team. With her final season uncertain, she’s taken a look back on her time playing collegiate volleyball, both at JMU and before she became a Duke.

“When I came and did a tour, they [JMU] told me about the culture and it was something that I didn’t really see much at my previous school,” Beasley said. “So here not only is everyone in a close-knit group but I’m able to keep working on everything I need in volleyball.”

Originally from Texas, Beasley played volleyball in a competitive state. With students committing to in-state volleyball teams such as Baylor University and Texas University, the competition to be noticed by major athletic programs was difficult. However, Beasley’s versatility on the court and her experience as both an offensive and defensive asset made her appealing and a threat on the court.

Beasley began her collegiate career playing at Auburn University for two seasons. While there, she redshirted her first year because of a season-ending injury. Once recovered, Beasley made her debut against Georgia Tech for the Tigers. After her comeback, she played in every set while at Auburn and tallied 422 digs, eight kills, 27 assists and 42 aces.

“Our initial attraction to her was her volleyball skill and talent,” head coach Lauren Steinbrecher said. “When we saw she was on the transfer portal and watched her video, she had good numbers for competing in the SEC, and when we got to know her better we practically begged her to join, and she did.”

When Beasley joined JMU volleyball, she continued to grow as a player. In her first season, Beasley finished with 208 digs, 17 kills and 12 assists. Playing in 93 sets, Beasley was a strong force for the Dukes as a defensive specialist and an outside hitter for the team. 

Because she was attending JMU as a graduate student, Beasley was already the oldest member of the team. With former teammates like middle blocker M’Kaela White, outside hitter Briley Brind’Amour and setter Sarah Martin as the remaining senior leadership, growing as a connected member of the team was a simple task. The team is open about their close relationships with their teammates and coaches, and Beasley joining was no exception.

“Coming in, we noticed her leadership capabilities and confidence from the start,” assistant coach Travis Magorien said. “If there was someone she wanted to learn from, those three were the prime examples to go to. She latched on to them and is coming to her own now because of it.”

Beasley held a leadership role throughout her first season on the team and continues to hold the role this year. With three years of competition under her belt and more determination than ever, Beasley’s used her confidence and courage to help bring the team closer whenever they’re able to practice together.

“Just being a presence in the team and doing things with the team that we don’t always see is something she’s doing a good job at,” Magorien said. “I think that right away with her experience they knew that she’s the real deal, and she has done a good job of leading by example.”

The team began holding practices again on Monday after a two-week pause due to COVID-19 exposures. However, that pause didn’t stop Beasley or the rest of the roster from doing what they could to be in the best shape possible ahead of the upcoming season.

The NCAA announced its intention to hold fall sports championships during the spring this past Wednesday, with the official season start date still being determined within conferences. The NCAA approved having all teams begin the season Jan. 22, with a condensed NCAA tournament size of 48 teams compared to the usual number of 64 teams.

“The team is ready to get back in the gym,” Magorien said. “They’re super motivated and really want to win another championship. The current senior class is the last team to win a CAA title, and the team really wants that experience.”

This decision allows athletes to be able to have a championship appearance and title as their ultimate goal once again as well as face off against rival Towson — which won against the Dukes last season. To Beasley, that’s something she said she’s hoped for throughout her volleyball career.

“The team and the staff and the culture are all amazing parts of being here,” Beasley said. “However, competing for championships is an incredible thing I’ve really loved doing here. It’s not an opportunity I’ve had before, so it means a lot.”

JMU Volleyball hasn’t announced any schedule play for either conference or tournament and most likely won’t until the spring semester. This break in the schedule gives way for Beasley to continue to grow and improve as a player during this unprecedented quiet period. 

“Everyone comes in as the best player in their area,” Beasley said. “It’s a reality check and a big adjustment to make, so you have to work that much harder to get the playing time and skills you want to stand out.”

Beasley is known for her versatility on the court as both a producing offensive and defensive player. Being a defensive specialist and outside hitter allows her to understand the game from different angles. Despite playing defense more in college, Beasley’s been able to score offensively in high-pressure situations. 

Even with the pressure having to flip back and forth between an offensive and defensive position, the mindset doesn’t change or affect her abilities as a player. Her ability to do so has become a major asset for the Dukes that’s been used in almost every match.

“Confidence was never an issue for her,” Coach Steinbrecher said. “She was able to step in and really execute on a high level.”

Beasley has been a strong role model for JMU Volleyball and has continued to work toward a CAA championship in the spring when fall sports return.

Contact Madison Hricik at hricikmn@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.