Sophomore Kristine Hjembo always knew that moving to America directly after graduating high school would be tough, but the 5-foot-11-inch setter from Aalesund, Norway knew it was the necessary step to perfect her skills and reach her ultimate potential.
“I moved to America because college volleyball is a great opportunity if you want to play professional,” Hjembo said. “I picked UCA because I like the fact that it is a small school with a big volleyball program.”
From a young age, Hjembo knew that volleyball was her calling. She began playing volleyball when she was 11 years old and hasn’t looked back since. Hjembo currently plays as a setter.
“I changed to setter around three years ago,” she said. “I was an outside hitter, but changed because I wasn’t as tall as some of the others that play outside positions. My height is really good for a setter and I switched because I like to lead the team and make every play, like a setter does.”
Hjembo began her volleyball career at UCA last year.
She started in 26 matches, starting in 15. She was the Sugar Bears’ starting setter for 76 sets. She ranked second for UCA and ninth in the Southland conference with 627 assists. She led the team with a .968 service percentage and managed two double-doubles against Abilene Christian and McNeese State.
Even though Hjembo is only a sophomore at UCA, she has already made some extraordinary memories, both on and off the court.
“I have had a lot of good experiences,” Hjembo said. “Playing big schools are always fun, but when we won again LSU, that was one of my favorites.”
There is more to Hjembo than just volleyball: school is just as important.
“I’m studying psychology and want to be a psychologist,” Hjembo said. “The hardest thing is when we are in season. Traveling all the time, the schoolwork just adds up. It’s really important to stay disciplined in school, but it’s hard because you get really tired from all the playing and traveling.”
Not only does school keep Hjembo grounded, but so do her teammates.
“I am closest with [sophomore]Megan Nash from Canada,” she said. “We hit it off right away. We had the same interests, and we are both foreigners.”
In the spring semester, the UCA volleyball program announced the arrival of new Head coach Jeni Jones. This is Jones’s first season at the helm of UCA volleyball after spending 13 seasons as assistant coach at Missouri State, bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to the program, from her playing days at Florida where she made it to the final four three out of four times. Hjembo only had kind words to say of her new coach.
“Coach Jones is great. She is very professional and very organized, and that is exactly what we need in this program,” Hjembo said. “She is a go-getter and will never give up until she gets it right. Our goal is the NCAA tournament.”
Last season the Sugar Bears weren’t quite able to be the first SLC team to mark the milestone of winning back-to-back conference championships.
UCA fell to Northwestern State in three sets.
Even though Hjembo is only just embarking on her volleyball college career, she has her eyes set on high goals.
“Four years of college is good preparation,” she said. “After college I want to play professionally somewhere in Europe.”
The Sugar Bears will next be in action Sept. 11 as they take on Stony Brook University on the road at the LBSU/LMUMizuno invitational in Los Angeles.
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 9, 2015 print edition of The Echo.
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