Nineteen-year-old Karlie Sloan, a graduate of Merritt Secondary School a little more than a year ago, was home for a brief two-week visit in May. Just as quickly, she was gone again — headed back to the American south to continue her competitive volleyball career.

Sloan spent this past school year attending West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) in the tiny community of Canyon, approximately 20 kilometres outside the city of Amarillo.

The former MSS Panther star earned an athletic scholarship to play for the Lady Buffaloes in the NCAA’s Lone Star conference while working towards a degree in business.

Sloan is the first Canadian player ever to suit up for the Buffs (as they are fondly called by their fans). WTAMU usually recruits its varsity athletes from the states of the American southwest.

Sloan will spend this summer based out of Houston, where her older brother, Roger, and his wife now live. Roger, a graduate himself of the University of Texas-El Paso, is a professional golfer, currently competing on the PGA’s web.comTour.

The younger Sloan has nothing but great things to say about her freshman year at West Texas A&M.

“I loved it. It was completely different from what I was expecting,” she said. “You’re on a team with mostly older girls, playing against other mostly older girls. It’s very competitive.”

As with most first-year players in any varsity sport, Sloan did not see a great deal of playing time. Technically, she red-shirted her freshman year, and is still eligible for four more years of competition.

“It was frustrating at times,” Sloan conceded, “especially when you felt you could contribute something on the court. But our coach (Jason Skoch) was very honest and up front about it.”

Sloan said the women’s volleyball programs at American schools are very intense.

“We practised six days a week (Monday to Saturday), usually three hours a day, from mid-August through till December. They have to give us one day off a week. That’s NCAA rules.”

With a roster of 22 players at its peak, and only six on the floor at a time in games, Lady Buffalo practices were ultra-competitive.

“It actually made things fun,” said Sloan, who never lacked intensity or fierce competitive spirit during her high school and club playing days back in British Columbia. “In the end, we’re all working towards one goal — and that is to win. We’re pushing each other with that goal in mind.”

Sloan’s drive during the fall season, and in spring training, was not lost on Skoch.

“She improved a lot,” the head coach said. “Her strengths are her persistence and her accountability. No excuses come from Karlie.”

A highlight of Sloan’s first year at West Texas was a visit by her parents at Canadian Thanksgiving last October. Her mom made turkey dinner for the entire Lady Buffaloes volleyball team.

Despite her rigorous athletic schedule, Sloan excelled in the classroom. Her courses were all ‘front-end loaded’ — scheduled for the earlier part of the day so as not to conflict with practices.

“I enjoyed school … as much as you can enjoy school,” Sloan said with a laugh. “I took mostly core classes, and they were fairly easy. I’m sure things will get more difficult in the second year.”

In the meantime, Sloan is spending the summer focusing on getting better and becoming a more complete player. She’s spending her time in Houston with club coach Julie Morton, who Sloan worked out with last summer, and who put in a good word for her with Skoch when he was looking to fill his roster at West Texas A&M.

“I’ll be working a lot one-on-one with [Julie],” said Sloan, “as well as helping her to run practices with her team of 16 and 17-year-old players.

With a conference record of just 5-11 last season, both Sloan and Skoch feel there’s plenty of room for improvement in the Lady Buffs’ game.

“I’m hoping to play a more significant role in my second season at West Texas,” said Sloan.