Malina and Paulena Kamau are bringing a unique perspective to the Ames volleyball program.
The sisters moved to Ames from Fort Collins, Colorado, where they attended Fossil Ridge High School. They started playing volleyball in middle school, but really got into the sport in high school.
But instead of focusing on playing with four other teammates in a gym, they played together out on the beach. The duo was part of an Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) sand volleyball club team.
Sand volleyball is a 2-on-2 sport. That requires each athlete to be versatile as volleyball players and that is what the Kamau sisters bring to the court for Ames this season.
“Obviously in doubles you’ve got to cover more court, so they’re very multitalented," Ames head coach Meg Williams said. "They can hit, they can set and they can pass.”
Malina is a senior and Paulena a junior.
“They fit in right away with our chemistry,” Ames senior outside hitter Ireland Buss said. “Having them fill those roles is a huge deal. They give good energy. It’s definitely a good addition.”
It's been a little bit of an adjustment for both girls with the move to 6-on-6 team competition and learning to dive after balls on a hardwood floor as opposed to the sand.
“Sometimes you kind of forget,” Malina Kamau said. “It’s a lot better now. We practice every day, so that helps us adjust.”
But what the Kamau sisters bring to the table more than makes up for their inexperience in high school volleyball.
“They’ve had a lot of experience with sand, so they have different things that you normally wouldn't see on an indoor volleyball court, which really helps the team," Ames setter Elaina Deardorff said. "They know how to hit back row. We can rely on them — they always keep the ball in.”
That includes knowing where to be when an opponent attacks from different angles.
“We’ve gotten used to seeing the ball,” Malina Kamau said. “There was much more court to cover. If it’s a tip we can usually read that. It’s just really helped us overall with our overall game.”
Playing sand volleyball also helps players become more explosive with their attacks.
“There’s a lot of timing with the hitting,” Malina Kamau said. “That’s really different because jumping in the sand is so much harder.”
Malina has been one of Ames' most well-rounded players this season. She goes all the way around and leads the team in digs (144) and aces (18) and is second in kills (48).
“Malina is probably a little more aggressive at the net,” Williams said. “Even though she’s not very tall she jumps out of the gym and is very aggressive at the net.”
Paulena is more of a back row specialist. She's just getting her feet wet after missing the first part of the year with an ankle injury, but she had five digs during Thursday's four-set home victory over Woodward-Granger (25-16, 22-25, 25-15, 25-14).
That included a sensational diving stop on the far-right side of the court during the fourth set.
“Paulena brings a lot of hustle in the back row,” Williams said. “She goes for everything and doesn’t let the ball drop.”
Paulena said she loves playing with her sister, even if they haven't always seen eye to eye.
“We had to adjust to each other and try to get along,” Paulena Kamau said. “Playing together has really grown our relationship. We do the same things. We’ve had to become really close.”
Their teammates certainly appreciate their contributions.
“It really helps us out a lot,” Ames libero Jude Spillers said. “They talk a lot and give good communication.”
The addition of Malina and Paulena has helped Ames rebound from the loss of a talented group of seniors off last year's team.
“We had six seniors graduate last year,” Deardorff said. “Those two came in and really helped the team.”
Ames is sitting at 6-5 on the season after its win over Woodward-Granger. The Little Cyclones are 2-2 in the Iowa Alliance Conference.
With the unique talents the Kamau sisters bring to the table, Ames has the potential to make a strong final push and contend for both a winning record and a conference championship.
“I’m pretty happy with how things are going,” Malina Kamau said. “I have good hope for the future of our team.”
This article originally appeared on Ames Tribune: Kamau sisters using beach volleyball background to give Ames a spark