Throughout career, Carter identifies herself through Southern volleyball
Sam Tapper — Sport Writer
When asking somebody who they are, there may be a long pause as the person does not know how to describe themselves, or they may jump right in with a laundry list of things that make them tick. For Owls’ volleyball senior Tea Carter, she says her identity is built around the sport she knows and loves.
“I think a lot of my identity is rooted in volleyball,” said Carter. “I love to write, I love exploring coffee shops, but, honestly, a lot of who I am is rooted in volleyball because I ended up here and have had the college experience I’ve had because of my pursuit of playing collegiate volleyball.”
That pursuit began for Carter on the opposite coast of the United States in her hometown of Modesto, Calif., a community about an hour-and-ahalf driving distance from the Bay Area. It was there in her hometown that her volleyball career unofficially started, when she was around 5-yearsold.
“I started playing volleyball — just peppering with my dad — when I was probably five or six,” Carter said, “and I didn’t start playing competitive
volleyball until I was 11. Until that point, I had been playing soccer. So I had been playing competitive soccer since I was a lot younger, but I enjoyed volleyball a lot more, and I think the only reason that I really played soccer and stuck with soccer for so long was because my older sister played, and I wanted to be like her, but even as I got better at soccer, I never fully loved it, but volleyball was a sport that even though I started it later, I loved it earlier.”
As Carter stuck with volleyball and continued to work at it, she quickly realized that she loved the game and that she was pretty good at it. Carter
then began her high school career at Downey High School in Downey, Calif., however, the sports programs there, she felt, would not get her to the next level. She was even cut from her varsity team her freshman year.
With athletic and academic reasons in mind, Carter eventually elected to transfer to James C. Enochs High School in Modesto. In her time at Enochs, Carter was a varsity letter-winner in soccer in addition to volleyball. She helped her volleyball squad win a Modesto Metro Conference title.
Carter also earned Academic All-Conference honors and other scholarly accolades. After graduating from Enochs, Carter says she knew what she wanted her next step to be because it was always her dream — playing collegiate volleyball. In what she described as an “exhausting process,” Carter sent emails to countless schools before verbally committing to California Lutheran University.
“When I first spoke with [Owls’ head coach Lisa Barbaro], I had just ended a verbal commitment [at Calif. Lutheran],” Carter said. “I really loved the
school, and so I verbally committed. I wasn’t even thinking about any other schools, and then, around January of my senior year, that coach gave me a call and basically said, ‘we thought there was going to be a spot for you.’ They already had four setters. Even though she told me I’m better than most of her setters, I was like, ‘I’m not going to go to a school if they’re not going to make some changes to fit me in.’”
After she dropped her commitment from Cal Lutheran, there were some major question marks for her. However, just days later, Barbaro reached out via email, and Carter set out on a visit. Soon after, she made the decision to become an Owl.
“It was a really quick process,” Carter said. “I came for a visit in February, and I ended up really liking it. At the time, I knew I only wanted to be a political science major, so I met with the chairman of the political science department and the chair of the honors college, and I just really
loved the atmosphere I was going to be walking into.”
Now, in her final season, Carter plays the setter position, something her teammate freshman Ella White describes as “always the most important position on the court, no matter what.”
In Barbaro’s 5-1 play scheme, Carter is the lone setter. This year, she has collected a team-high 908 assists thus far — ranking second in the NE10.
“Without [Carter], we just wouldn’t be able to do anything,” said White. “You can’t hit without a setter. Without her, it wouldn’t be possible.”
On the court, aside from setting her teammates up for potential kills, she is very vocal. Whether it is calling out plays, keeping her team alert or cheering for her teammates’ success, Carter is always communicating with her other five teammates on the court.
“With myself being a middle, the chemistry between a middle and a setter is important,” said Abigail Epstein, a junior. “Tea and I just clicked quickly, resulting in trust between both of us.”
As Carter’s career draws to a close, she says volleyball will always be a part of who she is. Though she will no longer be playing after this year, she says she hopes to stay close to the game by continuing coaching club teams. As for a career, she wants to stay in the northeast while potentially pursuing a career as a professor, lawyer, journalist or communicator. First, she said, she will start with a Manhattan-based communications firm where she interned last summer.
“I don’t really know what my dream job would be, I feel like I go backand-forth every day,” Carter said smiling. “I think that I have to figure that out. I struggle with that a lot because I’m interested in so much; I have passion for, I feel like, way too much, but if I end up wanting to go back to school or do something else, I can figure that out along the way.”
Photo credit: Will Aliou