Volleyball and Tabi Love once looked inseparable.
From being the water girl for the high school team her father coached as a child to becoming the top high school recruit in Canada, the UCLA senior outsider hitter has always considered volleyball a vital element of her life.
But after two years of volleyball at Minnesota, Love was contemplating quitting the sport. At first, Minnesota figured to be an ideal fit. The university was only a day’s drive away from Love’s hometown of Dauphin, Manitoba, making it possible for her family to make the occasional trip.
Somewhere along the path, however, the appeal that had lured Love into the sport began to fade.
“I was ready to go home, I just wasn’t happy,” Love said. “A lot of it was volleyball-related but a lot of it wasn’t. I thought of maybe transferring somewhere else and just going to school, I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to play anymore.”
Current UCLA coach Michael Sealy initially tried to recruit the prized outside hitter during his time as an assistant coach at Hawaii. Love leaned towards Hawaii before ultimately deciding to go to Minnesota and stay relatively close to home. Two years down the road, Love was granted her release from the Golden Gophers in order to rethink her future.
It was then that Sealy offered her some words of encouragement.
“I think sometimes people forget that volleyball is supposed to be fun, and you buy into the pressure of college athletics,” Sealy said. “The same thing happened to me when I was a player. … I shared my experience with Tabi and hopefully it resonated.”
Talking with Sealy turned out to be the perfect cure for Love’s doubts. At that point, she had already made her mind up about one thing: her future in volleyball did not lie in Minnesota.
“A lot of things had happened in my life that made me grow and mature as a person,” Love said.
“I just realized that if I wanted to reach what I thought was my full potential I couldn’t do it there.”
Although it wasn’t close to home, UCLA was a logical destination for Love due to Sealy’s position as head coach. The coaching staff was instrumental in Love’s decision to transfer to UCLA.
“I really agreed with their coaching philosophies, Mike is really awesome,” Love said.
“His concern for personal growth outside the gym is so refreshing; so many coaches are just concerned with how you perform on the court.”
In Love’s first year at UCLA, the Bruins won the national championship, but things weren’t always easy for her. It is common for transfers to struggle; finding the right role on a new team and mixing in with the established players can be tricky.
If anything, the tough transition only served as more motivation going into the offseason. While others may have taken some time to relax after winning the championship, Love went straight into preparing for her senior season.
“I felt this was my last chance, my last time to really see how good I could be,” Love said.
“I felt like I just owed it to me and to my teammates, but I just really wanted to know how much better I could get.”
The work over the offseason paid off. Love’s role on the team has expanded since last year; she is the go-to outside hitter on the team alongside senior Rachael Kidder. Opposing teams and teammates alike have taken notice of Love’s improvement.
“It’s crazy to see how her game has become so dominant. I kid with her every once in a while by telling her she could play on our men’s team, she just hits the ball so hard,” said junior outside hitter Kelly Reeves. “We trust that if we give her the ball she’s going to put it away.”
The changes this year haven’t just come in the form of Love’s performance. With a busy school schedule on top of trying to acclimate to a new team, it took some time for Love to fully bond with and open up to her teammates. With a full season now under her belt, Love’s personality on and off the court has taken a turn.
“Last year it kind of took a while to get to know her, she was pretty shy,” Reeves said. “This year she’s being more vocal and celebrating and showing her emotion. When she cheers it elevates the team.”
A short time has made a huge difference. At the start of last year Love was in Minnesota, deliberating whether or not she would ever play competitive volleyball again. Now, Love is a national champion and one of the leaders on a team seeking to repeat. She doesn’t regret her decision to come back and play two more years.
Love’s future beyond college remains to be seen.
“I haven’t really given it much thought. I think it would be a great opportunity to play professionally just to see the world and travel for free, but I also have bigger aspirations,” Love said.
“The big thing will be finding a balance; I want to play, but I also have dreams outside of volleyball, too.”