New Zealander finds new home at Western

By Christian Mengel

October 15, 2012

[caption id="attachment_12801" align="alignleft" width="199"] Melissa Cairns, an outside hitter from New Zealand, attempts to push the ball past the University of Central Missouri's right side blocker. To date, Cairns has 82 kills and averages 2.1 kills per set.[/caption] Freshman Melissa Cairns has played volleyball since she was 13 years old, but never thought she could play in America until just last year. Cairns is from Tauranga, New Zealand. Through volleyball, she was part of a team who played in a tournament in Tucson, Ariz. It was there that a scout had filmed the games, and that footage found it’s way to Missouri Western’s coach, Cory Frederick. “There is an agency that we were working with that recommended her,” Frederick said. “They said ‘Hey, she’s a solid player and she’s looking to come to the U.S. and has already traveled a lot,’ so they kind of put us in touch with her and we did everything off of video and their evaluations.” Cairns opportunities to play volleyball in America relied mostly on emails as the way to communicate. “I got emails from a lot of different schools,” Cairns said, “but the way Cory wrote to me seemed like he was more down-to-earth than most of the other coaches. So that’s what kind of interested me in the school.” It wasn’t until after Cairns was already committed to come to Western that Frederick even had an opportunity to meet her. She was playing in the High Performance Championships in Iowa in summer 2012 when Frederick was able to go up and see her play. She was unfortunately still under recruiting terms, meaning Frederick couldn’t really say much more than “hi” to her. Before ever coming to America, New Zealanders had a negative image of Americans. She was caught off guard when things didn’t meet her expectations. “I thought that most people would be fat,” Cairns said, “and New Zealand has perceptions of Americans being really blunt and rude. When I got to St. Joseph, everyone was super nice and I didn’t expect that.” Cairns wasn’t the only person who had misleading perceptions of a foreign country. She was shocked when she met with students here and really found out how little Americans know about New Zealand. “During Griffon Edge at the beginning of the semester, there was a person from my group who asked if tigers ran around in New Zealand,” Cairns said. “That was one of the stupidest things I’ve heard. Someone else thought that we lived in caves with fire as our only source of light, so that was a bit weird.” Cairns was also surprised to find out how similar St. Joseph is to her hometown. The population in St. Joseph is a little smaller, and it's not 10 minutes from the ocean. Other than environmental changes, there were a lot of changes on the court that she had to get used to. “When she came over in the pre-season, we were practicing six days a week,” Frederick said. “She was really tired and the first four days she was sleeping in her locker in the locker room. We were like ‘Are you okay?’ She said ‘Coach, we only practiced two hours a week in New Zealand, I’ve practiced more in four days than I practiced in a month back home.'" Although conditioning was a major change that she wasn’t ready for, it doesn’t show on the court. Cairns has been a standout freshman with dynamic kill power. Despite missing a few games due to a torn labrum in her hip, she has totaled up 82 kills on the season thus far. She is now back on the court and fighting through injuries and will go back to New Zealand in December for surgery. “Because I had so many injuries, coming here seemed stupid -- I’d end up hurting myself even more,” Cairns said. “But the opportunity was there, and you can’t pass up coming here to play volleyball and get an education at the same time.”