From the court to the sand, 2016 Trulaske grad continues to serve up success
By Maria Miller Yore
If you ask Carly Kan, BS BA ’16, the key to success, she’ll probably tell you determination and a little bit of fear. The hugely successful beach volleyball player, national volleyball champion and Mizzou alum says she’s a big believer in doing the things that scare you. In fact, stepping outside of her comfort zone seems to be the constant in all areas of her success.
Kan’s volleyball career started in 2013 at the University of Missouri -- a school the Hawaii-native had never heard of before visiting.
“It’s funny because I used to say Me-Zoo,” said Kan. laughing. “I didn’t even know how to say it.”
Kan landed at Mizzou on a whim. Like most of her high school friends, she had plans to attend a university a little closer to home on the West Coast -- one that would give her the opportunity to continue her dream of becoming a professional volleyball player, while also allowing her to study business.
While setting up a series of campus visits across the United States, Kan says she was convinced by an assistant coach to make a stop at Mizzou. It was a chance encounter at a university she hadn’t considered, let alone heard of, but one that ended up feeling “right.”
“It turned out to be my favorite,” she said. “A lot of my life I’ve just gone off of feelings. How I feel when I’m at some place or some time in my life. And I just felt it. This is it. This is where I want be.”
A successful women’s volleyball team and solid set of coaches? Check. A top-rated business program? Check. A warm and inviting campus with plenty of things to do? Check, check, check.
“I just felt the family atmosphere,” Kan said. “That’s important here in Hawaii and it felt like another home in Missouri.”
Kan found immediate success as a starting member of the women’s volleyball team. She had been recruited to play libero, a back row position that specializes in defense and replaces teammates throughout the game. But throughout her four seasons, she remained an outside hitter. It’s a position she continued professionally after her time at Mizzou.
And throughout four seasons, she made history, becoming just the second Tiger ever to be selected as an All-American not once, but three times. She was also named the SEC Freshman of the year in 2013 and ranked among the program’s all-time greats in many individual areas like kills (2nd) and digs (4th), according to MU stats.
Out of her comfort zone
When looking for a university, Kan always knew she wanted to focus her studies on business. She wasn’t sure of a particular area, but decided on finance after learning about all the Trulaske College of Business had to offer.
“I’ve always loved numbers so that was the whole reason why I went into finance,” she explained.
She quickly immersed herself in her studies by crunching numbers, studying models, analyzing, forecasting, managing portfolios and risk. But it was her experience with the Cornell Leadership Program (CLP) that she remembers most.
“To even be accepted into that program was something special and kind of just cool for me,” she said.
Named after the late CEO of Leggett & Platt, Harry M. Cornell, Jr., CLP was established in 2006 with the goal of creating additional opportunities, experiences and relationships for high-performing students in the Trulaske College of Business. The program aims to give students a realistic preview of the professional world through leadership-driven seminars, hands on job shadowing and corporate visits to companies in Missouri and beyond.
The acceptance process for CLP is competitive. Applications are screened once students are admitted to the college and require a background of demonstrated leadership and involvement in high school, as well as good grades, recommendation letters and an interview.
“We’re really looking for those students who are well rounded, have been involved in a variety of things and also who have a really strong character,” said CLP Director and associate teaching professor, Mary Beth Marrs. “I look really hard at the letters of recommendation to make sure it’s not just a review of the student’s resume, but that’s it’s someone who thinks enough of this person to take the time to write a little bit more, in terms of giving examples of what the student did to differentiate themselves.”
As an athlete, Kan wasn’t sure if she would have the time for such an intense program or if she even had the academic credentials to get in. She had good grades throughout high school, but says she certainly wasn’t the top of her class. After being selected, she remembers meeting her classmates for the first time and feeling quite intimidated.
“I was like, ‘Wow. Everyone here is incredibly smart and incredibly talented. What am I doing here?’”
“[Carly] was just a joy,” recalled Marrs. “She was just so much fun and so bright, in terms of her mind, how she thinks about things and also bright in how she lit up a room with her personality.”
Each year of their college experience, students in CLP have the opportunity to travel to cities across the country, and even other parts of the world, to visit well-known businesses, job shadow and meet with successful Mizzou alumni in their fields. The success of the program and its growth over the years is in large part thanks to alums and their connections who graciously welcome the students and host them each year.
“Back in the early days, we didn’t have CLP Alumni, but now it’s our alumni who are the boots on the ground, coordinating and providing that realistic preview for our students on what it’s going to be like entering the professional world,” Marrs said. “They’re always generous of their time and asking what they can do to help.”
Recent trips and experiences included six days in New York City where juniors visited the New York Stock Exchange and Goldman Sachs, had the opportunity to visit with and ask questions of nearly a dozen other companies and also take in the sights and sounds of Broadway. A trip to Denver last year included a tour of Blue Moon Brewery, hosted by Pete Coors of the MillerCoors family of brands. And just this past January, sophomores in the program took a trip to Panama that included a visit to the Panama Canal, a service project in the Gamboa Rainforest Reserve and immersion into the lives and culture of a local indigenous population. All trips are offered at no-cost to students.
“For me, growth wise, that was an important step for me to take,” Kan said. “I credit a lot of my pushing myself out of my comfort zone to that part of my life.”
Admittedly, Kan said she didn’t get to participate in CLP activities as much as her peers because volleyball demanded so much of her time. She recalls that the time she was able to spend with CLP was uncomfortable at first, but quickly allowed her to grow by pushing her to work on projects with classmates she may have never spoken to otherwise. Because her core leadership group was made up of the same people all four years, it was easier to make friends within her major and gave her a space to unwind from athletics.
“I think those times and the things we talked about when we hung out were such a huge part for me,” Kan said. “Having somewhere I could focus on school and get out of the volleyball world was just really nice for me.”
“I think it was really fun for her because the students just really rallied around her,” Marrs said. “They were her biggest cheerleading squad. They would go to her games and hold up posters and stuff for her which was really fun.”
Finance was the plan, but marketing left its mark
Even after four incredible volleyball seasons, national titles and historic personal accomplishments, Kan managed to excel in her studies and graduate a semester early with a degree in finance.
She continued her passion for volleyball back home, trading the court for the sand after receiving an offer to play beach volleyball at the University of Hawaii. While many rules of the game and skills transferred, playing two-on-two instead of six-on-six and maneuvering her new game floor took some getting used to. Growing up on the beach, one might think her passion for the sport started in the sand. It didn’t. At least, not at first.
“I played beach volleyball mostly just for fun. It just wasn’t that big or popular,” Kan said. “It became more popular in high school. I played a little bit my senior year at a beach club.”
At the University of Hawaii, Kan gleaned even more success. In her first year, she set a school record for the most wins in a season, beating the previous record of 20 with 31 wins, with 14 of those wins consecutive. She did this all while studying and graduating with another degree, a master’s in kinesiology.
When she graduated, Kan wasn’t ready to leave the sport she loved. She still had a longing to play indoor volleyball and decided to pursue that dream as long as she could. She chased her dream overseas to Germany where she played for Schwarz-Weiss Erfurt during the 2018-2019 season. But the sand, waves and island life were calling, so she decided to return home to Hawaii. And just three months later, she qualified in Chicago to play beach volleyball again.
Today, Kan’s world is as busy as ever. If it’s March through October, she’s traveling the world playing professional beach volleyball. The offseason may find her sewing, surfing, taking photos or out in the sand practicing. She trains, conditions and works out at least four times a week. And if that’s not enough, she also owns and operates her own business, a medical sales company passed down through her family.
“After college, I knew [finance] wasn’t the right path for me but I knew that business was still important to me,” she said.
Grateful to her professors and the finance program at Mizzou for everything she learned, Kan says getting her degree made her realize she had different goals than those of her classmates, many of whom went on to be financial analysts and investment bankers. She says it was the broad range of classes at Mizzou she was required to take as a finance major, including those she didn’t think she would have any interest in at all, that introduced her to other fields she hadn’t considered. She recalls some of her favorites focusing on entrepreneurship, angel investing and real estate. But it was her marketing classes that, again, forced her out of her comfort zone, grabbed her interest and helped develop the many paths she’s on today.
“I didn’t think that I was creative enough, so I didn’t think that marketing was something I’d like to pursue,” Kan remembers. “But now I feel like marketing is everywhere. Marketing is everything. So, I’m glad that we took that course because it’s part of everyday life.”
Today her business model is focused on sales, an area that wasn’t always her forte. She recalls the uneasiness she felt taking a summer internship with Aflac during which she became a licensed insurance agent during college. It’s another risk she stepped out of her comfort zone to take, with help from Mizzou to nudge her along.
“I’m a big believer now, if it scares you a little bit, you need to do it. I feel like that’s the only way we grow,” she said. “I don’t think would have gone to do it unless I already had that practice of doing things that scare me.”
And she’s found success. In two years’ time, business is growing. She’s making more and more relationships and has been able to hire an employee to take on some of the tasks she’s unable to complete herself while on tour.
If it scares you, go for it
So, what’s next? Kan hopes to remain a consistent professional beach volleyball player with the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP). And she’s well on her way, with two national wins already under her belt and a worldwide title: Hawaii’s first-ever AVP champion. The AVP is the premier U.S. pro beach volleyball league, featuring the most elite players. Kan has two first place wins in 2022: the first at the AVP Tour Series Waupaca Open in July with partner Kaitlyn Malaney, and the her second at the AVP Pro Series Central Florida Open in December with partner Jennifer Keddy.
In business, she has bigger plans, too. She’d like to diversify her medical product, grow her relationships further and continue to learn the ever-changing medical field.
With a life busier than most, Kan strives every day to find the balance. She says her time at Mizzou shaped who she is today and helped developed a new life motto of sorts: “If you’re just scared because you think you’ll look stupid, or you don’t think you belong, then I feel like those are not good enough reasons to not try something that could definitely change your life.”
Kan and her boyfriend Tanner, a Kansas City native, try to make a point of returning to Columbia when they visit Missouri every summer. It’s a chance for her to see changes at Mizzou, reflect on her past and the goals ahead, and to relive some of the best, and fastest, years of her life. Her advice to others during their college years?
“Immerse yourself in the experience. College looking back on it now was such an important special time and coming from Hawaii, I was very far from home. I almost had no choice but to totally get into it and really put myself out there,” she said. “But I feel like the friends that you make, the experiences that you have… those moments stay with you forever. For two or three years after graduating, I wish we could all go back and do it over again. I just know that Mizzou was so special to me.”
If you want to see what Kan is up to, you can follow her journey on her personal blog at carlykan.com.