Nebraska volleyball assistant coach Kayla Banwarth has been named the head coach at the University of Mississippi, becoming the third Nebraska assistant coach in the last four years to land a Division I head coaching job.
Banwarth joined the Nebraska volleyball coaching staff under head coach John Cook as an assistant in January 2017 and served as the Huskers’ recruiting coordinator and libero coach for three seasons. She will take over an Ole Miss program that went 14-15 (6-12 SEC) in 2019. Banwarth replaces Steve McRoberts, who was the Ole Miss head coach from 2014-19.
“I’m honored to be chosen as the next head coach for the Ole Miss volleyball program,” Banwarth said. “I’d like to thank (Athletics Director) Keith (Carter), (Deputy A.D. for Sports and Administration) Lynnette (Johnson) and the rest of the administration for their hospitality and support. I look forward to being a part of the Rebel family and am excited to lead the volleyball team as we work to build a tradition of success. I also want to thank Coach Cook, the administration at Nebraska and the whole state and fan base for their support. I wouldn’t have this amazing opportunity if it weren’t for a lot of people who have been there for me throughout my career.”
Banwarth joins Dani Busboom Kelly (Louisville) and Chris Tamas (Illinois) as Husker assistants who have recently taken over Division I programs. Nebraska’s video coordinator Beau Lawler will likely join her staff as an assistant coach at Ole Miss.
“I am pumped for Kayla and this opportunity for her to lead the Ole Miss program,” Cook said. “In her three years as a coach here, Kayla helped us win a Big Ten Championship and an NCAA Championship, and she played a huge role in coaching our liberos and helping our six-rotation hitters become great passers. She also did a tremendous job on the recruiting trail. Her story of going from a walk-on to a U.S. Olympic Team libero is an incredible one, and she will get to build on that legacy at Ole Miss. They are fortunate to land a talented up-and-coming coach like Kayla. We will work quickly to fill her position with the best candidate we can find for Husker volleyball.”
In her first season as a Husker assistant, Nebraska won the 2017 NCAA Championship and repeated as Big Ten champions with a 32-4 overall record and 19-1 mark in conference play. Under her guidance, setter Kelly Hunter was named the NCAA Championship co-most outstanding player, an AVCA first-team All-American and the Big Ten Setter of the Year. She was also the PrepVolleyball.com Player of the Year, while libero Kenzie Maloney was a PrepVolleyball.com first-team All-American and an NCAA Championship All-Tournament selection.
In 2018, the Huskers reached the NCAA Championship match once again, and Maloney was an NCAA Championship All-Tournament selection. Nebraska’s defense was one of the best in the nation, in large part thanks to the Huskers’ back-row passers. Nebraska finished the season with a .144 opponent hitting percentage, which ranked third in the nation, first in the Big Ten, and was the Huskers’ best mark since 2005. Maloney was an AVCA third-team All-American and an All-Big Ten selection.
The Huskers were one of the top defensive units in the nation once in again 2019, holding opponents to a .153 opponent hitting percentage, which ranked eighth in the nation and first in the Big Ten. Nebraska reached the Elite Eight for the eighth straight year, and freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles was an All-Big Ten Freshman Team member.
Banwarth completed an illustrious playing career for the Huskers in 2010 before embarking on a professional playing career that saw her win an Olympic bronze medal with the U.S. National Team, as well as an FIVB World Championship.
Banwarth finished her professional career with the U.S. National Team at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. A U.S. National Team libero since 2011, Banwarth spent two years as a volunteer assistant coach for the Pepperdine men’s volleyball team prior to joining the Huskers.
After walking on at Nebraska in 2007, Banwarth became the starting libero midway through her freshman season and remained in that role through 2010, receiving All-Big 12 honorable mention as a junior and senior. She led the Huskers to the NCAA semifinals in 2008 and to three Big 12 titles. She was Nebraska’s all-time career leader in digs with 1,706 until 2016. Banwarth was also a two-time academic All-Big 12 selection and a three-time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week.
Banwarth played professionally overseas in Azerbaijan but focused strictly on the U.S. National Team and coaching at Pepperdine in 2015 and 2016. She was named the Best Receiver at the 2015 NORCECA Championship and helped Team USA win gold there and at the FIVB World Grand Prix in 2016. In 2014 she aided Team USA to the FIVB World Championship, the first gold medal for the U.S. at a major tournament. In 2016 Banwarth anchored the squad at the Olympic Games in Rio, helping the U.S. to the bronze medal.
In 2013 Banwarth was named USA Volleyball’s Female Indoor Most Improved Player of the Year, and in 2012 and 2013 she led the team to gold medals in consecutive Pan American Cups. Also in 2013, she was the runner-up in the Best Digger category at the FIVB World Grand Champions Cup after posting 3.19 digs per set. In her first international competition in 2011, Banwarth helped USA to a bronze medal at the Pan American Games.
Banwarth joined the Pepperdine men’s volleyball staff as a volunteer assistant coach in December 2015 and coached for two seasons. In her first season, Pepperdine went 13-11, and she helped lead the Waves’ back line to rank 36th nationally with 7.69 digs per set.
A native of Dubuque, Iowa, Banwarth attended Wahlert Catholic High School before her Husker career. She graduated from UNL in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in English.