Colorado Athlete Sees More to Life Than Winning
Katelin Batten serves beyond the volleyball court to tell others about Christ
A University of North Carolina player spiked the volleyball over the net, and Katelin Batten reacted defensively with a dig, hitting the ball just before it touched the ground.
The ball sailed backwards into the Colorado State University team bench, but another teammate flew in for the second hit. Katelin then bumped the ball again and it easily cleared the net.
"Point!" yelled the Rams' public address announcer. "Rams!" replied the fans, a common occurrence at home matches after each scored point.
Katelin is a junior at CSU, where the volleyball team finishes near or at the top of its conference every year.
Making an Impression on the Court
Katelin is a "libero," a relatively new volleyball position that requires her to wear a contrasting jersey from her teammates, and she puts her kneepads to good use, spending much time rolling on the floor to keep the ball from touching the dreaded court floor.
She also holds various records on the team, including most digs in a season, which she achieved as a freshman, and average digs in a season, which she earned as both a freshman and sophomore.
Katelin is respected by many of her teammates and adored by pre-teen female fans and others in the community. After each home game in Moby Arena, she signs autographs for nearly 30 minutes, writing her name and a Scripture verse (Romans 5:3) for each adoring fan, most of whom are strangers.
Even on the popular social networking site Facebook, classmates and fans send her congratulatory messages after wins.
While Katelin is a popular 3-year starter for this nationally ranked college volleyball program, the status does not define her. Rather, she seeks to find her identity in her relationship with Jesus Christ.
Katelin's Road to a Relationship with Christ
Growing up, Katelin attended church regularly with her family of 5 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. At age 7, Katelin became a Christian, and though that relationship grew as she got older, she didn't know how to bring her faith out of church and into her daily life.
Soon after she arrived at CSU, Katelin's roommate, a basketball player, told her about Athletes in Action, the sports ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
The next day, AIA staff member Jeff Prior met with the volleyball team and told them about a weekly Bible study on campus, a resource for athletes who want to know more about God or grow in a relationship with Him.
Katelin didn't know of any other Christians on her team, but the following week, she ventured to the AIA meeting by herself, and found around 30 Christian athletes from a variety of sports.
In 2007, Katelin attended AIA's Ultimate Training Camp, a week-long camp held annually in Fort Collins, Colo., that teaches college athletes how to compete while learning to apply biblical principles to their individual sport.
"That week was the best week of my life," says Katelin. "Attending camp showed me that a relationship with Jesus isn't boring."
Being a Leader On and Off the Court
Two and a half years later, Katelin is now a student leader and has seen her life transformed through her experiences and involvement with the ministry. Since last fall, she has mentored a fellow student at CSU who became a Christian at an AIA meeting in September, and she also mentors a fellow teammate in her faith.
"Her value set is very strong, yet she's not judgmental," says Tom Hilbert, who just completed his 12th season as the Rams' head coach. "As a result she is easily approachable by our players."
The libero's teammates see how Jesus has changed her life as she interacts with them regularly.
"Katelin is more than my teammate -- she's a spiritual leader and friend," says Mekana Barnes, also a former roommate. "She looks for opportunities to encourage other Christians and those who have newly received Christ as Savior."
This summer, Katelin plans to intern at AIA's Ultimate Training Camp and has been recruiting teammates to attend with her.
"Katelin has told them that they're going to camp," says Nancy Prior, an AIA staff member at CSU.
There is now a handful of Christians on the volleyball team, and various others attend church with her on occasion.
"Katelin is an unofficial leader of the team, even though she's not a captain," says Jeff. "She's a great witness on the court, and security in her relationship with God causes her not to draw attention to herself."
Having Priorities in Challenging Times
However, Katelin has moments when being a witness for Christ is tested.
Sometimes when play isn't going well on the court -- whether as a team or individually -- she can succumb to anger or frustration. She's made comments to referees about apparent bad calls and has had some regrets on the court.
But she has also seen a difference in her demeanor when challenges appear, as she's remembered that God gave her a passion to play, and to reflect Him is vital.
In the midst of pressures that NCAA Division I athletes face, Katelin is aware that her life isn't only about her sport.
According to Chaz Miles, a fellow student at CSU and one of Katelin's best friends, "She knows something bigger than volleyball. Her relationship with Christ overshadows all things."
This is evident in how Katelin tries to make time with God a priority every day. She even wakes up earlier than normal on Mondays and Wednesdays to spend time with Him before hitting the gym at 6 a.m. to lift weights with the team.
Focusing on Relationships and Giving Back
This past year, Katelin cared more about her relationships with teammates than ever before, something that will undoubtedly carry into her senior season.
"I want to help my teammates in ways outside of volleyball. I want to be their friend, not just their teammate," says Katelin.
Those she knows off the court also see the ways in which Jesus has changed Katelin's life.
When she's not busy on the court, attending class or hanging out with friends at a local Sonic restaurant, she volunteers with the children's ministry at Iasis ("e-AH-sis") Christ Fellowship, a non-denominational church in Fort Collins.
The technical journalism major teaches and leads youth on Sunday mornings. Her leadership qualities don't go unnoticed, even by church staff members.
"Katelin is viewed as a leader because she has a lot influence with kids, both college and young ones," says Rick Richter, associate pastor at Iasis. "She also connects well with those who aren't involved with volleyball at the church, like single, career women."
The Saturday morning after CSU beat North Carolina, Katelin hosted 15 friends in her tiny condo for a breakfast of rich French toast made with a secret ingredient. Of all the friends present, only 2 played alongside Katelin on the volleyball team.
Since her sophomore year, Katelin has regularly invited friends over for meals, whether for breakfast or her mom's lasagna. Each gathering is a mixture of personalities -- volleyball teammates, church friends and athletes she has befriended through AIA.
"I have a desire to serve people, bring them together and have community," says Katelin.
Katelin's love for Christ is evident in how she loves others and carries herself -- both on and off the court.
It's there that she finds her true identity.