A cup of coffee and a deep breath is all Caroline Clippard needs to prepare for a volleyball match.
Between the caffeine and her strong sense of motivation, Clippard has solidified herself as a threat on Ohio’s roster this season. Her most notable performance came Sept. 30 when Ohio played Ball State. The outside hitter led both teams with a career-high 22 kills.
However, volleyball didn’t always come easy to her. It took years of work for Clippard to get where she is today.
The Cincinnati native was a late bloomer in the sport. Her middle school did not start school-sanctioned teams until the seventh grade, so Clippard was forced to try out for club teams. However, she wasn’t as apt as some of the other girls her age trying out due to her lack of experience.
“Going into tryouts, I really wanted to get a serve,” Clippard said. “So we set up a net in the grass in my yard, and I would go out there every single day.”
Practicing in her backyard and seeing the ball sail over the net for the first time was Clippard’s initial foray into volleyball. That moment etched in her mind, because those practices eventually led to her being offered an alternate position on a club team that later turned into a full-time spot on the roster.
Clippard grew over the years and eventually reached the high school level. She spent her high school career at Mercy McAuley High School, an all-girls Catholic school located in the College Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati. She collected 708 kills through her sophomore to senior years with the Wolves and was named to the Division I All-Ohio Honorable Mention team.
It was her determination and potential for further growth that landed Clippard a spot with the Bobcats.
Clippard was one of three players in Ohio’s 2021 recruiting class, and she set to work as soon as she arrived in Athens. She knows that as a freshman she is bound to make mistakes, but she carries the mentality she adopted while practicing in her backyard with her whenever she trains. She has a drive to improve the weakest aspects of her game, and Ohio’s coaching staff has responded accordingly.
“All of our coaches have been really intentional with my training and just catering certain drills toward things I need to work on,” Clippard said.
However, that drive for perfection has a downside. Clippard often criticizes herself for even the smallest mistakes during matches, and that can throw her performance off-kilter.
But Clippard keeps her head up, and she has her teammates to thank.
Clippard recognizes that she can only get so far as an individual. She’s no longer practicing alone in her backyard. Collegiate volleyball has an intensity that one cannot face alone, and her teammates have helped her to stay on track by offering encouraging words and support.
“I love everyone on the team,” Clippard said. “I think coming in, I was a little nervous because I hadn’t really met a lot of them but from the beginning, all of the girls were super welcoming to all of the freshmen.”
Clippard credits fellow outside hitter Lauren Park for mentoring her during practice. She provides Clippard with important feedback during drills and helps her stay motivated. Park, along with the other Bobcats, have aided Clippard in finding her footing and voice on the court.
Clippard sees the value in her teammates’ leadership and wants to follow their example. She wants to work on her defense and serving, while also working herself into an eventual leadership role. However, Clippard knows she can’t grow into a leader without continuously working on herself.
“I just want to work on my all-around game,” Clippard said. “I know that I have a lot of work to do.”
Clippard doesn’t get cold feet when she enters the gym to train. The practice pays off in due time, like in Ohio’s first win of the season against Toledo. In that match, Clippard collected 12 kills in 24 total attempts and had the best hitting percentage of any player on the court.
But her stats weren’t what made the moment sweet for Clippard.
“Those moments with my team where we can celebrate everything we’ve been accomplishing at practice … those moments together are probably my favorite,” Clippard said.
The extra hours spent in the gym, trips to the airport and days off spent studying are worth it to Clippard because of the feeling she gets on the court with the Bobcats.
And it all started with a makeshift court in her backyard.