An easy smile crosses the face of Gladstone native Lindsey Hood as she recalls her journey to become a professional volleyball player.
The job title is somewhat surreal to this unassuming athlete and head volleyball coach at Park Hill High School. The 31-year-old mom still can’t believe she plays for the Heart of America Havoc, Kansas City’s new professional volleyball team.
“I’ve never been super confident in myself,” says Hood, a six-foot starting middle for the Havoc. “And I’ve never thought I was the best.”
The record books at Oak Park High School and the University of Missouri-Kansas City, however, reveal a different story.
The former Lindsey Zerr, a 2000 Oak Park graduate, etched her name as one of the top setters in the school’s volleyball history. She received All-Conference, All-Region, and the prestigious All-State honors during her career as an Oakie.
Coaches from the University of Kansas, Clemson and Syracuse recruited the high school standout, who also played competitive club volleyball for the North Stars and Team KC.
Hood turned down those offers and committed to UMKC. “I wanted to give back to my family and play local,” she says.
At the collegiate level, Hood again left her mark on the game. The criminal justice major switched from setter to middle and captured All-Conference, All-Tournament and Most Valuable Player awards. She tallied 1,160 kills, 2,998 attacks, 75 solo blocks, and 325 block assists in four years with the Roos.
Hood’s teammates recognized her raw talent the moment she stepped on the court. They voted her team captain every year she played.
After college, Hood moved to the sidelines and focused on coaching. She served a brief stint as an assistant coach at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., and then returned to her volleyball roots.
Hood helped coach the volleyball teams at her high school alma mater. She also became a substitute teacher at Oak Park and spent five years working with special needs students.
The star athlete who struggled academically sensed an unspoken bond with those students.
“I have a learning disability,” Hood says. “I read slower than my peers and had an IEP (Individualized Education Program) since first grade.”
Hood now has her teaching certification and is a learning specialist in the Park Hill District. She will move from Congress Middle School to Park Hill High School this fall to teach special education.
Hood’s husband, Josh, teaches English at Park Hill. He’s also the Trojan’s new head football coach.
The 2013-14 season marks Hood’s fourth year as head volleyball coach at Park Hill. Her teams aren’t powerhouses in the Northland — they’ve hover around the .500 mark each year — but she still considers her “girls” champions.
“They’re responsible and hard-workers and they realize you don’t always measure success with wins and losses,” Hood says.
Compassion for others is a trait Hood instills in her players. Once a year, her team serves dinner to the homeless at Independence Boulevard Christian Church. “What we’re doing isn’t all about volleyball,” she says. “It’s also about developing the person.”
Volleyball, however, still plays a central role in Hood’s life. When she learned Kansas City was starting a new professional team, Hood jumped at the chance to play competitively again.
“I never assumed anything,” she says of making the team. “When you start assuming, you get surprised.”
The goal-oriented player relied on the skills she’d honed over the years when she attended Havoc’s first tryouts on December 1, 2012.
“There were more than 80 girls there,” she says.
Hood breezed through the second round of tryouts and soon joined what she calls the “amazing girls” on Havoc’s team.
“I was fortunate to be picked,” says Hood, one of the team’s oldest players. “I was surprised and grateful. I gave thanks to God for my ability.”
Havoc finished its first season in late May with an 11-9 record. “We had our highs and lows,” Hood says. “But it’s been phenomenal.”
Havoc’s head coach Jill Stinson credits Hood’s smart, selfless style of play as a key factor for the team’s success.
“She works her tail off,” says Stinson, who played professionally for The Kansas City Lightening in 1998. “And it’s not because she wants Lindsey to do better — don’t get me wrong, she does. She does it so she can be a better part of the team.”
General manager Kristin Rhodes agrees. “Lindsey is an incredible teammate,” she says. “She brings a wealth of knowledge to the team and isn’t shy about pointing out things to teammate that will make them better.”
Hood says playing for the Havoc has made her a better coach. “I’ve listened to the way Jill and Flip (Piontek, assistant coach) talk to the team,” she says. “And I try to take their advice and carry it over to my girls.”
Asked what life lessons she’s learned on the pro circuit, Hood says: “You’re never too old to do what you love. And if you love what you do, it doesn’t become a job. It becomes a passion.”
But there’s a force even stronger than Hood’s passion for the game that keeps this talented player on the court.
“I want my family to be proud of me,” she says. “And I want my son (2-year-old Knox) to know that you can do anything you want to do.”