Staff writer Karen Papazian sat down with Cornell volleyball senior Kiley McPeek to talk about everything from what makes this year’s team special to her time in Turkey during the attempted coup in 2016.
This transcript has been modified for content and clarity.
1. When did you realize that you’d want to pursue Volleyball at the college level?
I made my junior varsity team as a freshman and this was when I realized I may actually be okay at this sport and that I should try looking to see how long I could play it. I had started playing volleyball in middle school because it’s a hard sport to play when you’re little. I played club and competed at that level during my high school career. I stopped playing softball to start playing volleyball full time and started my recruiting process then.
2. What made Cornell stand out the most to you?
Cornell has been in my family for a really long time. I’ve had 10 family members who came here, including my parents, grandparents and sister. I think what really sold me on Cornell was the fact that I could study at such a high level and play a Division I sport all in the same place. Academics were really important to me, which is why I thought Cornell kind of fit the bill for both of those. I also really love the coaches and the players here so that definitely sold me.
3. What stands out about this year’s team compared to past Cornell teams you played on?
One big thing that jumps out to me is the experience that we have this year. In the past, we’ve had really young teams with a lot of freshmen and sophomores on the court. This year we have a lot of upperclassmen on the court leading the team, many having a lot of experience.
4. Do you see yourself as a superstitious person? Have you ever had any pre-game rituals?
Oh yeah, a 100 percent. Before every game, I do the same visualization every time. I also get very superstitious about my ponytails. I have my one lucky ponytail that I must always use. I also have this breast cancer ponytail that I always wear. I’ve had a lot of people in my family who had breast cancer, so I try and wear it during games to represent them as well.
5. Who has been your biggest inspiration?
I would say my mom. She started her own company when I was really little and has been able to both start a company from the ground up and raise [our family] our whole lives. My mom has been a role model to me showing me that you can do it all. I feel as though that has helped me at Cornell too because it’s hard to be a student-athlete sometimes. You consistently have a ton of work and prelims and need to find time to get everything done. She has shown me that you can do it all and that you can be successful at multiple things.
6. I heard that you were in Turkey when the [attempted] coup occurred in 2016. Can you tell us about your experience going through that?
I actually went for an internship experience. I was with another Cornellian in AEM, and we were there with a Cornell alumnus who owns his own company called Tedi Discount Tekstil. We got to do a rotational program with his company where we worked directly under him but also got to see a lot of different areas of the company. We got to see the company’s buyers, suppliers and warehouses. It was a really cool experience.
[The alumnus] took us under his wing while showing us around Turkey at the same time. I got to experience what it’s like to be in a country that’s definitely very different from the United States, and [was able to see] how businesses are run there. I was also able to learn a little bit of Turkish, which I never thought I would know in my whole life.
The coup actually happened on our last day of the internship. We finished work and we were going out to celebrate at a restaurant right on the water, and the guy that we were with had to take a phone call, which resulted in us having to go back to the apartment. Right where we had previously eaten dinner was where the coup started, so we got super lucky that he decided he needed to go back to the apartment. We ended up being stuck in our apartment for four days because the U.S. Embassy and Cornell told us not to leave as they were coming up with a plan to try and evacuate us. Eventually, Cornell got us a flight through Germany to come back to the United States because all of the flights from the United States to and from Turkey were canceled. My family was actually going to be on their way to Turkey to come and visit me. I was going to show them around Istanbul and then we were going to go to Greece, but I decided to tell them to stay home.
7. If you could travel anywhere, where would it be?
I really would love to do a tour around Asia. I’d love to go to Vietnam, China and Japan. Going to a lot of places that are different from the United States is definitely something that I want to do. Taking a tour around Asia is something different, and it would be nice to see that part of the world and learn a different culture than ours.
8. What do you envision yourself doing after college?
Right now, my plan is to move to New York City. I’m going to be living with my sister there. I’m going to be working at Citibank in sales and trading. But, in the way-way future, my dream is to open my own coffee shop. I’m still unsure of when that will happen, but that’s what I want to do eventually.
9. What are some things that you like to do in your downtime?
I really love going around and doing different things in Ithaca with my teammates. We recently went and picked apples at the apple orchard together. We like to go to Apple Fest, walk around the plantations, go to the gorges — just spend some time outside and do a lot of different things that Ithaca has to offer, especially since I won’t be here for that much longer.
10. Is it tough being a student-athlete and always having to travel for away games?
Yeah, it is tough being a student-athlete especially when you have a lot of classes on Friday’s that you have to miss when traveling. During midterm and prelim season, it’s pretty hard when you have three prelims the next week but you have games on Friday and Saturday, so all of your studying gets pushed to Sunday. It is hard but you have to figure out how to balance doing work on the bus, in-between games or when you’re in the hotel. It’s hard especially when you’re a freshman since volleyball is a Fall sport you kind of get thrown into the fire right away so you have to figure out really quickly how to balance everything. I think that is a huge strength a lot of the girls on our team have. They have great time management skills to get things done when there isn’t a lot of time.
Bonus: What are your favorite sports/teams outside of Cornell?
I’m originally from the northwest suburbs of Chicago, so I typically root for the Chicago teams. My favorite team is the Blackhawks. I love watching professional hockey. The Blackhawks are usually pretty successful which helps. My second favorite sport would have to be baseball. It helps that the Cubs have been really good and won the World Series last year as well.