Kit Byars, a 2022 Lake Mills graduate, loves the game of volleyball, something she grew up playing in a house of volleyball players. Her mom, Brook Christianson, just finished her first year as the head coach at Lake Mills and was a standout for the Bulldogs when she was in high school. Her sister, Dottie, was an all-district player for the Bulldogs this season, and her youngest sister, Besty, is a club volleyball player and future Bulldog – even her dad was a volleyball player at times.
“Both of my parents were very, very athletic,” said Byars. “That was always a big point we were given growing up to always be working out, working, or doing something. Definitely having sisters who are also athletic… we were always just competitive, and we all love the sport so much,” she added.
This past fall, Byars excelled in the middle as a North Iowa Area Community College Trojan volleyball team member. This is common; multiple former Bulldogs have landed on Chris Brandt’s teams in her over a decade as the head coach, but how Byars got to Mason City was peculiar. Instead of heading off and continuing her education and volleyball career after high school like most recent grads do, Byars took a different path.
In the summer of 2022, after graduating from Lake Mills, Byars shipped off to Fort Sill in Oklahoma for basic training after enlisting in the Iowa Army National Guard. There, she endured demanding physical and mental activity, a life-lasting experience for Byars.
“It was challenging, don’t get me wrong, but the people I met, the things I did – it was insane,” said Byars of basic training. She added, “I never once wanted to leave. It was hard (when her training was over) to leave the people and experiences behind”.
Byars flew to Oklahoma and admitted she didn’t know anything about what would happen or what was ahead of her before she enlisted. No research, YouTube videos, or experiences from other basic training finishers – just said, “let’s do it,” and enlisted.
“Just that fact was terrifying,” she said.
She explained that when she landed in Oklahoma, it was the middle of the night, and they had one minute to call families and tell them they had made it safely, and then, “we were into it,” Byars stated. She remembered calling her mom and telling her she made it and said bye because that was all she had time for.
They spent a week at the reception filling out paperwork and doctor physicals, and just as Byars and the rest were getting settled in, they were once again in the dark of the unknown and put back on a bus off to a new location. Byars says the group was thrown into group situations broken down to ‘base zero,’ so everyone starts from the same spot. They met their platoons and were put into “very intense situations,” said Byars. The BCT or Basic Combat Training (basic training) is ten weeks long, and according to the Army National Guard website, “10-week sprint puts you on the road to greatness. You’ll meet your drill sergeant and learn the skills it takes to become a Soldier”.
“Daily physical training like running and lifting every day. I definitely lifted in high school, but this was just different with expectations you had to meet”, Byars said while explaining her day-to-day during basic training.
Byars was taught from a young age by her parents to be a leader and lead by example. She was thrust into a leadership role from almost the time she arrived at basic training and said one of the most challenging parts was continuing that mindset and leading.
“The (part) I struggled with the most was not letting people like my drill sergeant down and thinking (I) could’ve done better. It was a lot of stress doing everything correctly and everything to (my) top potential. I thought if I wasn’t giving my 100 percent, it wasn’t fair for me to ask everyone else too”.
After graduating from basic, Byars and the others were off to Advanced Individual Training (AIT), where military members learn the job skills they will be doing while enlisted. Byars learned the role of Fire Control Specialist, where she learned strategic skills to coordinate and integrate weapons operations. According to the Army, they learn to process and relay tactical battlefield information to a network of joint fires in support of mission-based operations.
While attending this seven to eight-week training at Fort Sill on the active duty side of the base, Byars was given more freedom, especially on weekends. That included time to do things they enjoyed but were asked not to play recreational activities such as team basketball or volleyball.
That’s when the love volleyball kicked back in for Byars. She often went to the gym to lift, and there was a spot where some played basketball and others played volleyball.
Byars, who thought her competitive volleyball playing days were behind her, explained she had no aspirations of returning to the floor following her service. She remembers walking into the gym one day, fighting the itch to play the game again, “Dang, it’s been a long time, but I have to play.”
(Whether she did or not while at AIT, you’ll have to come to your own conclusion.)
That brings us to one year ago, when she returned from AIT in the winter and fit back in, getting a job and not expecting to play team volleyball again. But, of course, always having that itch, she was planning to stay in the game in other ways.
Byars helped coach the North Iowa Blaze volleyball club, an organization run partly by her mom and Brandt. And what started as a conversation one day between Brandt and Kit about how the team was looking and what they were trying to add, Brandt mentioned, “I’ve got all these players, but I need a middle.” To which Byars joked, “You know Chris, I used to be a middle.” To which Brandt said, “Hey, perfect, do you want to play for me?”.
Byars, now realizing a chance to get back on the court was a real possibility, was all in and took the opportunity and ran with it.
She recorded 134 blocks this year, the most at NIACC since Karlie Niedert recorded 135 blocks in 2015. She ranked top-five in the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference Division II in blocks. She recorded 157 kills for the Trojans, who ended their season on November 1st, falling to DMACC in the regional tournament.
“I think it’s solely the want to play that pushes me so far. Every day on the court, you’re going to get my want to play, my passion, my effort, my drive, and my grit”, Byars said of her outstanding year.
Byars was one of two Trojans named ICCAC player of the week during the season. She was named for the week of Oct.23-29 after collecting ten digs, seven kills, and seven blocks in the team’s win against Marshalltown Community College.
Byars coming home and going back to school and playing volleyball isn’t the end of her military service. One weekend a month, she meets up with her unit for drill. They also leave for two weeks in the summer to a camp in Minnesota and do a training event. The Iowa Army National Guard units are also on a five-year rotation, and when her unit comes up, she could be sent for a deployment.
“I joined the army because I wanted to join the army,” Byars said of the possibility of a deployment while she was still in school. “If I did get that call, I don’t think I would try to get out of it. It might put me a step back college-wise, but I would go if I got the offer”.
That statement follows the National Guard motto, “Always Ready, Always There”!
Byars didn’t close the book on possibly playing another two years after her time with NIACC is up – if given the opportunity. She mentioned how much fun she had playing on the same team as Dottie and thought if given the chance to play with her again at the college level, she might take that.
For now, Byars is studying her general education courses at North Iowa Area Community College, and her service to the state and country is greatly appreciated – a role model for young girls on and off the court.
“I’m truly happy a team wanted me to play for them, and I’m happy I didn’t give up on my dream.”