The 2023 Kansas volleyball team is a close-knit group of talented players, loaded with depth, a killer instinct and incredible drive to be the best.
They’re not all the same height. They don’t all have the same disposition. And they’re not even always on the same page about the best way to go about their business.
There is, however, one thing they all can agree on — their love for teammate Molly Schultz.
“She was driving the other day and got in front of me and we were just like, ‘Uh. We love Molly Schultz,’” KU setter Camryn Turner shared with R1S1 Sports recently. “We love her so much. She is one of the best people I’ve ever met.”
Schultz’s impact on this team goes far beyond how people feel about her. Although she plays a limited role it is an important one. And her versatility, attitude and ability to stay ready at all times — for whatever is needed — has made her an important piece of a team ranked No. 14 in the country.
Still, it’s the way she carries herself within that role, and at any other time of the day, that her teammates talk about first, second and third when discussing her importance.
“I think Molly is like the definition of pure happiness and sunshine,” senior middle blocker Kim Whetstone said. “There’s never negative energy around her. She’s just a really great person. Everybody should strive to be a Molly Schultz.”
A 5-foot-7 defensive specialist from Rockford, Minnesota, Schultz, like all girls who join the Jayhawks, came to KU with big goals. An all-conference and all-state prospect throughout high school, who held or still holds several school records in volleyball and track, Schultz knew she was good enough to play just about anywhere.
But then she didn’t. Sure, she appeared in 22 matches as a freshman, 29 as a sophomore and 25 last season — with a few starts sprinkled in — but her time on the floor was limited and so were her statistics.
Didn’t matter. It was at that point, that Schultz made a conscious decision to tap into all of that niceness that her teammates talk about and use her positive energy to help the team however she could.
“I really just focused on how I wanted my experience to be all together,” she told R1S1 Sports. “I could’ve been really down on myself and just not enjoyed the sport, but I knew that every day I played the sport I wanted to enjoy it, so I just found joy in supporting my teammates and cheering them on.”
It’s funny, but that’s exactly how she found volleyball in the first place. Her three main sports during her childhood were gymnastics, track and volleyball. Eventually, she chose to focus most on volleyball for one key reason.
“Between those three sports, it was the biggest team sport,” she said.
For teammates like Turner and Caroline Bien, who have been stars and huge contributors since their freshman seasons, playing that type of role is difficult to fully understand. Schultz’s ability to handle it with such grace and make the most of it in every way has both of them, along with others, admiring her on a whole different level these days.
“There’s a lot to say about staying competitive when you’re in a role like that,” Bien said. “You have to just like love the competition and embrace making other people around you better, which, I think, is what she’s best at. It is extremely rare to find someone like Molly. She’s a busy girl, has a really hard major, a job, she’s just all over the place and she comes in here so happy to play volleyball.”
Added Turner: “It’s hard coming in every single day working your butt off. She’s a very go-with-the-flow type of person so I feel like she’s ready no matter what. She wants to give whatever she can so she’s ready whenever, and I feel like that just kind of goes into her play because she does always do good. She’s just very consistent. Good day, bad day, she’s always there for you no matter what. She makes amazing plays every single day because she does work so hard and is so amazing.”
Looking back, Schultz admits that she didn’t really know what to expect when she came to KU but that she knew she was willing to work for whatever role she had.
“I knew it was going to be really high-level volleyball and I knew every day was going to be a competition,” she said, noting that this current team has six players at her position. “My role differs each game, but every game I want to see the team do great. I just try to bring a lot of positive energy. I’m a big hype person on the court and on the bench, and I just love cheering on my teammates when they make a play.”
It doesn’t take much to see that. Whether on the court or standing with KU’s other reserves on the bench, Schultz can usually be seen smiling.
“We always joke about how photogenic she is in pictures,” Bien said. “Because she is always smiling. It’s not luck. She actually is just so happy out there.”
Turner, who first met Schultz as a high school senior during a summer camp, said Schultz’s demeanor, personality and overall essence made an impact on her long before the two ever became teammates.
“I don’t think I’ve ever told her this,” Turner began. “But she was a big reason I wanted to come here. She was just so nice at camp, and I was like, ‘I want to play with someone like her; she’s a freakin’ baller.’”
While Schultz’s sunny disposition and elite personality shine so bright and stand out above all else, she does have some notable volleyball accomplishments to her name during her time as a Jayhawk.
She’s currently tied for fifth on the team with 9 aces and has appeared in 67 of KU’s 78 sets so far this season. She also started six matches during her first three seasons at Kansas, and one of those is still her all-time career highlight.
That came during the Jayhawks’ second round NCAA Tournament match at Creighton two years ago, and to hear Schultz talk about it, you’d think it was yesterday.
After rotating starts with another teammate throughout the season — both from match to match and even set to set — she found out she was starting that one about five minutes before first serve.
“Just hearing my name called was surreal because you dream about those moments when you’re a little kid,” she recalled. “It was just really crazy and I remember thinking back to when I was little and used to watch all those college volleyball games on TV. It was just so joyful in that moment.”
The Jayhawks won that day in four sets to advance to the Sweet 16, and Schultz’s stats, like her career, were rather modest — a couple of aces, four digs and countless smiles.
Moments like that, and dozens more, are the reason Schultz has thrived during her time at Kansas. Sure, she would’ve loved to play more and, yeah, everyone loves stats, but it’s really never been about either of those things for Schultz.
Instead, it’s the opportunity to be a part of something special, that she’ll never forget, that has filled her cup.
Schultz said a lot of people have asked her if she’s ever in a bad mood and she usually laughs at the question.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Smiling is fun for me, and I just always seem to have a smile on my face.”
Her place and experience in the Kansas volleyball program has had a lot to do with that and she has enjoyed every second.
“The great thing about this team is we’re all super-excited for each other and we’re all team-first; we just like to see the team succeed,” she said. “I just love the people I get to be around every day. The people here are great and the coaches here are phenomenal. It’s just like a big family.”
Wave the Wheat stories from Volleyball Appreciation Week
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