HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Southern Miss outside hitter Kylie Grandy had a successful first collegiate season. The 2015 Conference USA All-Freshman Team honoree recorded 333 kills, the most by a Golden Eagle rookie since 1995, and Southern Miss posted its highest win total since 2009. But she might not have ended up in Hattiesburg if not for her mother's guidance.
"I was originally set on another school, and my mom said 'you'll never know if you end up loving a school,'" Grandy said. "I told her she was right, and the visit was the best by far. It felt like home, and even walking around campus I knew it was a place where I wanted to spend the next four years."
Getting into a black and gold uniform was one thing. The next challenge was getting on the court, even if Grandy was confident she would get plenty of action.
"I just came in and knew off the bat I would have to work hard for a spot," Grandy said. "I knew I was going to play, and I knew I was capable of starting, but my mindset is that I'm going to have to work hard no matter what. If something happens, and this year we have a lot of freshman outside hitters that are doing well, I'll need to work hard every day of practice."
Stats alone show that Grandy's transition into collegiate volleyball was not too difficult, and she is also quick to credit senior and 2015 Second-Team All-Conference selection Stephany Purdue for elevating her game.
"We are just alike, and she plays the same position as me," Grandy said. "She was somebody I could look up to, especially as a captain. Just being able to look up to her and learn from her success and my mistakes helps me find ways to be successful."
Purdue said she saw herself in Grandy and took her under her wing.
"She was like my mini-me," Purdue said. "It was kind of hard at first to play with someone just like you, but she became a younger sister on the court. We think the same and it was easy to talk to her on the court and guide her."
While Grandy looked to Purdue's leadership in 2015, head coach Amanda Berkley said that same quality is what best describes the sophomore.
"To be a leader as a freshman last year playing and to be one in the preseason, Kylie has done a great job at picking up where she left off," Berkley said. "On the court, she's a great all-around player. She's a great passer and defender and that has helped take our team to the next level."
Berkley, Grandy and Purdue led the 2015 team to a 24-11 record, the program's most wins since 2009. Southern Miss has also increased its win total each of the past three years, and the Golden Eagles have back-to-back 20-win campaigns for the first time since 1989-90.
Grandy takes the student-athlete role to the next level on both fronts. Off the court, she has a strong passion for animals. Grandy spent three weeks back home this past summer working at a dog adoption center before returning to Hattiesburg for workouts. Her favorite breed is the German Shepherd, which goes well with her career goals.
"I want to train police and service dogs when I get older," Grandy said. "I'll have to do a little bit of extra schooling. It's definitely what I'm pursuing right now."
Southern Miss will hold its annual volleyball Fan Day on Saturday, with the youth clinic at 1 p.m. and intrasquad scrimmage at 2:30. The season begins Friday, Aug. 26 at Oak Grove High School, where the Golden Eagles begin their tournament against McNeese State at 7:30 p.m.
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