When Kayla Banwarth was named the new head coach of Ole Miss volleyball in December, it was a program-defining hire that put winning first. Banwarth, who most recently served as an assistant coach at Nebraska, won three Big 12 titles and an Olympic bronze medal as a libero. Her first commitment in the class of 2021 hopes to follow in her coach’s footsteps.
Bria Samilton, the third player to follow Banwarth to Oxford after setter Gabby Easton transferred west and setter Callaway Cason joined the class of 2020, is a 5-foot-8 defensive specialist from Phoenix, Arizona. She will join the Rebels after being recruited by the new skipper and her assistant coach Maggie Scott, who was brought on staff in January.
We spoke with Samilton about her goals and why she chose Ole Miss. My questions are in bold:
When did you start playing volleyball?
I started playing in Kindergarten when I was about six. When I was younger, I played outside hitter, but had to make the transition to libero about two years ago.
It was a height thing, you know? I had to get into the position I would play on the next level and start training where I would actually be.
I assume that means you were recruited to Ole Miss as a libero?
Yes. I want to compete for the libero jersey.
You also have a beach background. How does that carry over to your indoor game?
I’ve spent my whole life growing up in Arizona and played beach a lot when I was little.
I think it was good for my game when I was younger because you have to focus on every single aspect of the game. In sand, you have to do it all and you can’t just rely on hitting or passing. I think it really helps your indoor game, especially when you need to get crafty.
Do you have a favorite moment of your career thus far?
Oooh, yes I do! When I was playing at Aspire Volleyball Club, we had this game at Triple Crown (one of the largest club volleyball tournaments in the nation, attracting the best teams and over 500 college coaches) against the No. 1 team in the country. We were definitely the underdogs and no one expected us to win, but we won in the (tiebreaker) third set 16-14.
You’re going into your senior year of high school. If the season goes as planned, what are your goals in the next twelve or so months before you get to campus?
My goal is to grow as a person and get ready for college. You know, being an adult and things, ha! On the court, I’m going to focus on working at my whole game and putting myself in a position to compete for a starting position when I get to Ole Miss.
My goal is to get there and play as a freshman, so my next year will be doing everything I can to reach it.
Coach Banwarth took over in December, which really wasn’t that long ago. What did the recruiting timeline look like and how did Ole Miss get on your radar after your decommitted from San Diego State?
I got an offer from the University of Oregon my freshman year and while I didn’t end up there, the coach that recruited me has always been really good to me. When he heard the news about San Diego State, he reached out to Ole Miss’ assistant coach Maggie Scott, who he coached at Oregon.
Coach Scott got in touch with me, she talked to coach Banwarth, and they offered me about two months ago. It was a full circle moment!
What is different about coach Banwarth and her staff? Why did you choose Ole Miss?
The coaching staff was probably the biggest factor for me. I was looking for a family environment. It was important to me to find a close knit group and I felt it with the staff and team at Ole Miss. And then obviously her accolades can’t be beat— especially at my position, I can’t be trained better from anyone.
Coach Banwarth and Scott were super caring and easy to talk to, and showed that they wanted me. It was the best possible fit.
What can you tell me about what coach Banwarth is looking to accomplish?
That’s one of the things that really drew me to the program. They’re really looking to change the vision. The first goal is to make the tournament and then go on from there. Once Ole Miss makes the tournament, it can push to reach the sweet sixteen and so on. I loved the idea that I could come in and really make a difference.
How did Ole Miss’ pitch differ from other schools?
It was made clear to me that (the staff) could see me coming in and competing for the libero jersey right away. I’m super competitive and I want to play immediately, so hearing that I have the potential to put in the work and earn that spot when I get there was a big factor.
Have you made it down to Oxford yet?
Obviously things are very different right now. There are no recruiting visits, but it was super important to me to see every campus that I was considering. I went down to Oxford a few weeks ago and I loved it.
If you could get a lifetime supply of any food in the world, what would you choose?
I’m obsessed with popcorn. Yep, cheddar and butter popcorn!
If you were to be an animal, what would you be and why?
If you could ask your four-years-from-now self a question, what would it be?
Did you really get the best out of yourself through these four years?
This is a very contentious topic... Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Oh man, I’ve never thought about this. I would say yes, it’s a sandwich. You have bread on both sides and meat and toppings in the middle. I don’t know what you’d consider it otherwise.
If Bria Samilton had a slogan, what would it be?
Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.