Paola Ten Caten sat in the bleachers at the University of Kansas enraptured by one thought: her mother was amazing.
As a former player for the Jayhawks’ volleyball team, Ten Caten’s mother, Paula, regularly participated in the program’s annual alumni game that pitted her and other past stars against the current team. And that meant a 5-year-old Paola would sit among a throng of fans to watch her play.
Paola didn’t know much about volleyball at the time, but even then it was obvious her mother was good. Her earliest memories are filled with her mother confounding the younger players with her explosive hitting and reliable ability to get a kill.
“That was one of the best memories I had with volleyball,” Paola said. “Just sitting there and watching my mom.”
More than a decade later, the 5-foot-11 Paola Ten Caten is set to step onto the court for Coppin State University as a freshman outside hitter — the same position as her mother — and is ready to continue her family’s legacy as being a dominant Division I volleyball player.
She has been surrounded by the sport for almost her entire life, and the people in the Coppin State program are excited for what that means for the team.
“She’s always been exposed to volleyball, so if you know volleyball at a young age, you have a very high IQ because you’re constantly around it,” Eagles head coach Tim Walsh said. “So that’s going to benefit her and our program.”
There is a certain amount of pressure that comes with being Paula Ten Caten’s daughter. A native of Canarana, Brazil, Paula made an immediate impact for the Jayhawks when she arrived as a junior in 2004 after playing two years at Barton County Community College. She started all 31 games and ranked fourth on the team with 2.78 kills per game.
The people who are close with the Ten Caten family and familiar with Paula expect Paola to produce the same or similar results in her career. Those people include coaches from other Division I schools like Texas A&M and Kansas, which can be a challenge.
“Expectations are really high for me,” Paola said. “[Growing up around Division I coaches] is pretty great, but it can be very difficult.”
Her mother has made sure she lives up to those high expectations, though, and sometimes that meant long hours of extra work after a tough game during her high school years. Ten Caten plied her trade with the Tampa United volleyball program in Florida.
There was one instance in which Ten Caten’s mother had her work for three hours after a particularly rough game.
“She would be like, ‘No, no, that’s weak. Jump higher,'” she said. “So you have little moments like that. There’s always those fun parts.”
In addition, Ten Caten’s stepfather, Bradley, was also her coach, and the reality of that was much different than what her teammates perceived it to be.
“A lot of the times they would think he was making me the favorite even though he was the hardest on me,” she said.
Off the court, they had a regular father-daughter relationship. But once they were on the court together, it was more about seeing each other as a player and coach.
“I would have times where I forgot that, and as soon as we got in the car, he would tell me that is not acceptable,” Ten Caten said. “After that, I would realize that I would have to be more professional.”
But Ten Caten said there are some benefits to both of her parents being involved in volleyball. They both know what they’re talking about when it comes to the sport and how to improve her game. And that extra work she put in was obvious to Walsh.
“Just her variety of shots,” Walsh said when asked what stood out to him the most about Ten Caten. “She was able to see the block well and swing around and through the block. Her tip and rolls and soft shots and line shots. So she has a variety of shots in the front.”
Walsh mostly has to rely on film when recruiting because of a low operating budget that limits the amount of face-to-face interactions he can get with players. Walsh says film can be deceiving, but that wasn’t the case with Ten Caten.
“Her energy to her teammates and demeanor on film was something that I think will help the team,” Walsh said. “Even when she made a mistake, she didn’t hang her head and make three more.”
The Eagles have not enjoyed a recent history of winning many games, but they are trending in the right direction after winning 12 games in 2018. Walsh, who is entering his third year as head coach, is hopeful that Ten Caten will contribute to maintaining that positive movement.
“I think Paola will come in with that skill and some base of knowledge,” he said. “We won’t have to spend a ton of time on [skills and mechanics], which will help in the long run because she’s going to be able to just play volleyball.”
And Ten Caten is looking forward to the challenge.
“I’ve seen the differences the past two years have done for them,” she said. “And I’m actually very excited. The girls I’ve been talking to have gotten really good. I’ll bring whatever I can to help the team.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Coppin State Athletics