RICHMOND, Va. - Kristin Boyd was better than ever in 2011, arguably VCU's best player, but it's hard to tell her that now.
Boyd was a freshman in 2009 when the Rams won the first two sets of a best-of-five Colonial Athletic Association championship match, at home, against George Mason, only to watch the Patriots rally for the victory. Last season, the Rams reached the final against host Delaware. VCU appeared poised to spring the upset after storming to a 2-1 advantage, but with a raucous home crowd behind them, the Blue Hens came from behind for a 3-2 win.
Boyd spiked 14 kills against Delaware in last year's CAA Championship Match, but hit .075 and committed 11 attacking errors. It's a performance that has haunted her since November.
"Last year was hard for me because I didn't play well," Boyd said. "I probably played one of the worst games I had all season."
But all that pain has given birth to perseverance.
"I had all the motivation and determination to go into [this] year to work even harder, to put in the extra hours and make sure that never happened again," she said.
If the 2008 version of Kristin Boyd could hear those comments and see herself today, proudly wearing a "VCU Strength" t-shirt, she'd find it, at the very least, ironic.
The Boyd of 2008, the raw, overwhelmed, passive one, wasn't much for the weight room or any other activity under the VCU Strength and Conditioning umbrella. The weight room was an inconvenience and, and running, well, running was just torture.
But after the 2009-10 school year, Boyd convinced herself to stay the whole summer on campus and work out with Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Tim Kontos and his staff. It went about as well as expected.
"That first summer I hated staying here because I missed my family," Boyd, now a fifth-year senior, said. "And I hated running, and we ran every day."
Despite her reservations, Boyd survived the experience and showed noticeable improvement during the 2010 season. In addition, her knees, which for years had a habit of popping out of socket, stayed where they belonged, in their joints. That was all the motivation she would ever need. She returned the next summer a changed woman and set team records in a number of fitness categories.
"It's different now I think because I see the value in it," she said. "As a freshman I didn't see the value in it. Now I don't want all that work I've done go to waste…and I want to improve. I don't want to stay the same."
In 2011, Boyd was an offensive force. She led VCU and ranked third in the CAA in kills (3.44) and fifth in points per set (3.91), and set career highs in nearly every other statistical category.
Now she's not just inspired by the products of her hard work, she's an inspiration to others. For the second straight year, the team named her its "Iron Ram", a title given during the preseason to the player who worked the hardest in offseason workouts. She's also a team captain. Boyd has come a long way in a few short years.
"I knew athletically we could get her to do some things and her desire to do them is the thing that's allowed that to happen," said Rams' Coach James Finley. "But the thing I'm proudest about is her growth, her own personal maturity."
Boyd's maturity has made her a better leader and a better player, which could mean history for her. She recorded 440 kills last season and ranks seventh on the Rams' career list with 961. She needs 402 to pass Shannon McMeekin atop VCU's career list.
"Now that we're in the A-10 our whole team is on the same page," Boyd said. "We want this really, really bad. We know it's going to be really rough, but we all think we can pull this off. I think we have what it takes, as long as we sustain this mentality and work ethic."