Libero activist

Tiger volleyball player Maya Sands earns SEC honors for controlling Mizzou’s back line.

This season, volleyball player Maya Sands led the conference with 4.71 digs per set and was named the SEC libero of the year. The Tigers went 18-13 overall and 9-9 in the SEC.

Published on Show Me Mizzou April 30, 2024
Story by Joe Walljasper, BJ ’92

When Dawn Sullivan left UNLV to become Missouri’s volleyball coach in 2023, she faced the daunting task of rebuilding a program that had finished last in the Southeastern Conference the previous two years. Fortunately for Sullivan, she wasn’t coming from Las Vegas alone. 

Maya Sands decided to follow her coach to Mizzou. Sands, a junior, is an elite libero — a back-row defensive player — and she immediately elevated the Tigers’ talent level. Just as important, she knew exactly what Sullivan expected from her players and helped accelerate the team’s acceptance of a new culture.

“When I committed, Dawn and I talked a lot about where we wanted to take this program and how we wanted to see it grow,” Sands says. “My main focus was what I could do to make sure we, as a team, could be successful. I didn’t want to come in sounding really bossy, but I slowly started to implement the routines we did at UNLV. It was simple things like going out five minutes early before practice and getting extra reps.”

Teammates followed her lead. 

Sullivan calls Sands “one of the most disciplined individuals you will meet. She sets the expectation and drives the behaviors and future habits. She essentially says, ‘Climb on, let’s go. This is what we’re going to be about.’”

The coach adds that many players find it tough to know when to push and when to let a team find its own direction. “But Maya does that so well,” Sullivan says. “She has such an internal drive but also a kindness and openness to let people grow in their personal space.”

The Tigers went 18-13 overall, including 9-9 in the SEC, and earned an NCAA Tournament berth. Sullivan was named the SEC coach of the year. Sands, who led the conference with 4.71 digs per set, was tabbed the SEC libero of the year.

The success and recognition validated how far Sands has come in a short period. She didn’t even start playing the libero position until her senior year of high school in Rock Falls, Illinois. She received no scholarship offers from power conference schools, but Sullivan liked her scrappy style and offered her a chance to play at UNLV.

Since relocating to Missouri, they’ve proven together that they belong at the highest level of college volleyball.

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