By Caleb Barron
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Good things come to those who wait. Then there is the case of MU outside hitter Lisa Henning. Only 19-years-old, Henning has been named to the All-Big 12 Freshman Team, competed on an international level and led her team to the Sweet Sixteen. The scintillating sophomore has had such a strong rapport with success that it sometimes comes without her noticing.
Growing up, Henning's club team, the KC Extreme, consistently advanced to out-of-state and national competitions each year. She became familiar with perfecting her craft on the road.
"It didn't really hit me that I traveled that much and, normally, people don't get to go to different states every month," Henning said.
As her skills became apparent to all parties who witnessed them, volleyball jumped to the top of Henning's priority list. When Henning started receiving interest from universities throughout the midwest, the realization that she could get her college paid for steadily grew in importance. Her other competitive interests, basketball and softball, fell by the wayside. Now focusing solely on volleyball, Henning's skills blossomed.
"Becoming better at volleyball was easier since I loved it so much," Henning said.
People all over the Kansas City area started to notice the girl with all the kills from Blue Springs.
"Everyone was just kind of like, ‘Oh, you're the girl that's always in the paper.' People recognized me when they came to our games," Henning said. "It's always been happening to me, since high school, so it's not really a big deal to me."
One of Henning's "admirers" ended up on a roller-coaster of a relationship with the celebrated hitter. MU senior libero Priscilla "Pip" Armendariz played for Blue Springs South High School, the rival school of Henning's Blue Springs. The two admit their relationship fell short of friendly.
"Lisa and I were rivals in high school," Armendariz says. "She was always my arch-enemy, the main player for their team and I kind of ran the show for my team, so we had at it at each other in high school."
Fortunately for MU, the two standouts emphasize the rivalry was completely based on competition. Once they started playing on the same side of the court, the relationship quickly changed. Dramatically.
"She's my roommate; we're best friends," Henning said.
By the time Henning landed at the University of Missouri, Armendariz had two full seasons of volleyball, and college life, under her belt. Ironically, she became Henning's mentor, helping her break out of her comfort zone and become acclimated with the team.
"She was really shy, really quiet. It took here awhile to come out of her shell," Armendariz said. "As a freshman, you don't know a lot about what's going on, so I just started cluing her in on things, giving her rides, anything she really needed. I just tried to make her feel comfortable and fit in with the group."
Now with an ally in her corner, Henning went on a dominant run, posting 266 kills on .227 hitting and becoming the first MU freshman since 2003 to lead the team in kills. Henning's accomplishments landed her on the All-Big 12 Freshman Team, but her game was about to be turned-up another notch.
The first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament paired MU against the fifth ranked team in the nation, Northern Iowa. In her first career postseason match, Henning would not be shaken as she tallied her season-best point total against the Panthers, accumulating 19.5 total points in the Tigers' first-round upset.
Henning promptly delivered an 18-kill encore against Northwestern in the second round, helping Mizzou advance to the Sweet 16 for only the second time in school history. Once again, the immediacy of success barely registered.
"I was a freshman so everything was new to me. I didn't really know how great of a thing that was," Henning said.
However, the experience did make her and her teammates hungry for more.
"Being in the Sweet Sixteen, and being around that level of play, really helped me out and our team out because it showed what we could be and how successful we could be. It just made us, especially [sophomore setter] Molly Kreklow and I, want to get to the tournament every year."
Despite last year's run through the first two rounds of the tournament and becoming the first Big 12 team to reach 20 wins in 2011, Henning believes MU could flirt with the underdog role once again this year.
"Because we are so young, if we make it to the tournament, we'll definitely be the team that people will not really think is going to be that hard to beat."
Should the Tigers make a repeat visit to the NCAA Tournament, Henning believes she will be better equipped due to offseason training in China. The Blue Springs native used the experience to become a six-rotation player.
"Since we didn't have a spring season last year, it really helped me get some of the nerves out of being a six rotation player; just being able to be back there and not having to worry about our record or getting yanked. It was basically for fun going there so there was a lot of pressure taken off of me."
Potentially of even greater worth, the trip to Asia, and visits to The Great Wall and The Forbidden City, allowed Henning to appreciate what the sport, and her talent, has given her.
"I would have never been able to go to China without volleyball, so I think it really made me focus and made me think about how much volleyball has done for me."
Henning doesn't see her walking away from the sport anytime soon.
"I really want to play volleyball. I feel like I wouldn't know what to do if I wasn't a volleyball player. My whole life, that's what I've always been."
Even if her successes did come as a surprise.