Those who have been to a Utah volleyball practice know the sound.
After practice is finished, the giggles inevitably begin. Pretty soon, the giggles become open laughter, and everyone in the gym knows where it is coming from.
It seems the Odale sisters are at it again.
“We’re just a bunch of dorks,” McKenzie Odale said. “We have so many inside jokes…we’re just laughing hysterically at stuff and (the team) is like, “what the heck is wrong with you?’ “
Sisters McKenzie, a sophomore setter, and Morgan, a freshman outside hitter, are unlike any tandem in Utah athletics. Never mind that the Idaho natives are already crucial pieces to the Ute volleyball team’s success8212;it’s their personalities that set them apart.
“When they get together, they’re crazy…in a good way,” said Charlotte Odale, the duo’s mother.
Charlotte’s simple description hits the nail on the head.
McKenzie and Morgan do have definitive personalities, but when together, the sisters mesh into a giggling, sentence-finishing unit that constantly plays off the other’s vibe. It’s not uncommon for the two to jubilantly speak in unison when prompted by a subject they are both passionate about.
The tight union between the two started at an early age, and volleyball was the connecting link.
“We’ve been raised playing volleyball and raised playing together,” McKenzie said.
Charlotte started McKenzie and Morgan’s volleyball careers when they were only 9 and 8 years old, respectively. Since then, the two have played on the same court nearly every match. It wasn’t until McKenzie went to Utah during Morgan’s senior year in high school that the two were separated.
In high school, the two spent about eight months a year playing volleyball on the same team.
That time together is especially evident on the court.
“We have a really good connection,” Morgan said. “We just know what each other is going to do.”
Both acknowledge that their jobs are easier with the other around. The wealth of experience with each other has allowed the two to understand each other’s every move.
According to Charlotte, the year apart made them both stronger players, but they are at their best when sharing the court.
Along with the fundamental benefits, the sisters provide relief for one another when things are tough.
“Sometimes I’ll get down, but then I realize I have my sister on the court,” McKenzie said. “She knows what’s going through my head and she’s able to tell me things to calm me down.”
This familiarity is beneficial not only for the Odales, but also for Utah volleyball. Morgan and McKenzie are two of the team’s greatest assets for the future, considering McKenzie is only in her second year with the program and Morgan is a true freshman.
“It’s the deepest trust you can get when you play with your sister,” McKenzie said.
The two blend seamlessly when they are together, but their different personalities are noticeable.
Charlotte said McKenzie has always been the perfectionist. The sophomore is the epitome of dedication, both to her team and her family.
On the court, McKenzie gets frustrated with her play at times. The same can rarely be said for Morgan. Even when she is not at her best, the freshman shrugs off her errors like an experienced veteran and waits for the next opportunity.
The personality differences don’t end there.
“Morgan tends to be domineering and bosses Kenzie around,” Charlotte said. “At the same time, Kenzie is the mom to (Morgan).”
Despite the connection between the two, Morgan said that she did not come to Utah to play with McKenzie. She said her sister was a factor, but the other players and the coaching staff were the selling points.
The duo’s mother disagrees.
“Morgan went to Utah to be with McKenzie…that was her comfort zone,” she said.
That the two are both college athletes should come as a surprise to no one. Morgan and McKenzie hail from a remarkably athletic family.
Charlotte coached high school and club volleyball and also played for the Boise State volleyball team. Her husband Don has coached basketball and volleyball, and played college basketball at Pacific University.
Morgan and McKenzie have half-sisters that have been on the Cornell rowing team, the U.S. national women’s rugby team and the Missouri State volleyball team.
The two credit their athletic prowess to a devoted mother, who was just as much a coach as a parent. Charlotte was pregnant with both Morgan and McKenzie during volleyball season and thinks the two could hear her yelling during games.
“Our mom was pretty much coaching us when we were in the womb,” McKenzie said.
Morgan and McKenzie’s lives have been saturated with volleyball, but Charlotte said the sport is simply a mechanism for the two to reach higher goals. She said volleyball is a great family joy, but it is temporary. She wants her daughters to focus on being members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and musical interests, which will last longer than their volleyball careers.
Although music and faith may be the Odales’ overarching family values, volleyball is still an adhesive between Morgan and McKenzie. The sport has been present their entire lives, and they have translated that exposure into success.
Yet another value Charlotte preached to her children was the importance of putting the team first. She said her daughters’ success is measured by the improvement of the team rather than individual accolades. This sentiment rings true in Charlotte’s daughters, who both said their volleyball goal is to make Utah a better program.
McKenzie and Morgan have been key factors to Utah’s success this season. Altough they are young and still raw, their high school experiences have prepared them for the collegiate level.
Morgan in particular is used to the competition. Being one of the top hitters in Idaho, she was constantly keyed on by opposing blockers.
“I’m used to (the stress of college volleyball) because I’ve been on teams where I can’t make mistakes,” she said.
There is no doubt that a long family history of volleyball has prepared the Odale sisters for successful careers at Utah.