Alisia Kastmo isn't quite ready for her collegiate volleyball career to end. That's why she's hoping to help the Texas A&M Aggie volleyball team go somewhere it's never been before.
Kastmo, an All Saints standout, is one of five Aggie seniors that open NCAA Tournament play on Thursday at 4 p.m. against North Carolina State in Austin.
The Aggies received an at-large bid into the tournament and it marks Kastmo's third NCAA Tournament trip. This time Kastmo and the Aggies are hoping to reach the regional finals for just the third time in program history and for the first time since 2001. To do so the Aggies must win three matches.
Kastmo believes the deep and experienced Aggies are poised to make a run.
"I have so much confidence in our team," Kastmo said. "I feel we've been great this year. We've played close matches and we've won a lot of them. I think we're ready to go further than we did in 2009 (Aggies reached the regional semifinals). We'd love to get to the Final Four and see what happens from there."
The Aggies had a great season in their debut in the Southeastern Conference. The Aggies (24-5, 16-4) won the SEC West Division. While the Aggies made the move for football, Kastmo said the Aggies' experience in a quality conference like the Big 12 prepared them for the SEC. The Aggies won their past nine matches.
Kastmo finished off this season as an All-SEC First Team selection, her second straight year as a conference first-team pick. Kastmo ended the regular season leading the Aggies with 3.59 kills, 0.26 aces and 4.08 points per set. Her averages were also in the SEC Top 10.
Earlier this season Kastmo was named the MVP at the Delaware Invitational and to the Texas A&M Invitational All-Tournament team.
A&M clinched the SEC West title on Nov. 16 against Missouri at home on senior night. Kastmo scored the division-clinching point.
"(That night) was surreal," Kastmo said. "It didn't feel like I was supposed to be there yet. It was a strange feeling playing in front of the 12th Man for the last time. It was an amazing culmination being set up for the win."
Kastmo will leave Texas A&M as one of its most versatile performers. Recruited as a middle blocker, Kastmo played inside her freshman year before she was moved to the outside. It's unusual for a middle blocker to move to the outside at the collegiate level, considering that volleyball is a sport of specialization. But A&M recognized her versatility early on and has used it to their advantage during her career.
"She is absolutely our go-to player, mostly because she is not hitting quick balls anymore," Aggies coach Laurie Corbelli said. "You can only set quick attackers in certain situations, but you can set a second-tempo attacker anytime, and she gets the ball just about anytime we really need to put the ball away."
Kastmo picked up that versatility while she played volleyball at All Saints and in club.
"I was able to play all the way around (the court) and got into defensive drills early on," Kastmo said. "I went to a small school so I had the chance to play back row when most tall middles don't do that. I was fortunate to have great fundamental coaches. That allowed me to get experience but not get stuck in one spot. I was very fortunate to go to All Saints."
It helps that she comes from an athletic family. Her father, Jan-Harry Kastmo, was a heavyweight boxer in Norway. Her grandfather, Joseph Stephenson, played football at Vanderbilt. Her mother, Lea Kastmo, swam in college. Her brother played basketball.
All Saints also helped set up her education. Kastmo graduated in three years from A&M, partly because she took dual credit courses in high school. Kastmo earned a bachelor's degree in finance before her senior year began and is now taking courses toward a master's degree in real estate.
She doesn't have an eye on a job yet, partly because she's hopeful she'll be able to play pro volleyball somewhere. Most of those leagues are in Europe and she's been quizzing former Aggies about the experience.
But for now, Kastmo hopes her collegiate volleyball career will endure for a few more weeks and, perhaps a trip to Louisville, Ken. That's where the NCAA Final Four will be held from Dec. 13-15.
"I feel like this year has been a culmination of all of our hard work and experience," Kastmo said. "We're finishing up in a strong way and that's how we want to leave, with a legacy of excellence and winning and teaching our underclassmen about how hard work pays off."