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Dig This: Biology Major Tries Out for U.S. Volleyball Team

Lowell Native Jackie Kho Puts Skills to Test against Top Players from Across Country

Jackie Kho digs the ball during tryouts Photo by courtesy
Sophomore biology major Jackie Kho of Lowell digs the ball during his tryout for the U.S. men’s national volleyball team in Anaheim, Calif.

By Ed Brennen

There was no time to visit Disneyland, but Jackie Kho still made it to what he considers the happiest place on earth: tryouts for the U.S. men’s national volleyball team in Anaheim, Calif.

Kho, a sophomore biology major in the Kennedy College of Sciences, was among 90 college-age players from across the country who attended a two-day open tryout in December at the national team center. The players were vying for spots on the senior, collegiate and junior national teams, which compete in tournaments around the world and groom players for the U.S. Olympic team. 

“I was nervous, but it was a phenomenal experience,” says Kho, a Lowell native who was on the national team’s radar after participating in several USA Volleyball camps in Boston. He received an email invitation three weeks before the tryouts, leaving him just enough time to book his flight to California.

“I think the tryout went very, very well,” says Kho, who expects to find out this spring if he made the national team. “I gained a lot of leadership experience, seeing how these players take charge and motivate each other, and I made a lot of good friends.”

At 5-foot-7, Kho plays the “libero” position, a defensive specialist whose primary responsibility is to dig the screaming serves and thundering spikes from the opposition.

Jackie Kho with national team coach John Speraw Photo by courtesy
Jackie Kho poses for a photo with John Speraw, head coach of the U.S. men's national volleyball team, during his tryout in Anaheim, Calif.

“I love receiving those hard hits,” Kho says. “If I can ricochet them off my body and get them to the setter, that’s exciting.”

Kho began playing volleyball in middle school along with his twin brother Ricky, who is also a biology major in the Kennedy College. The brothers both played varsity volleyball at Lowell High School and were members of the Mill City Volleyball Club.

At UMass Lowell, Kho played on the men’s club volleyball team his freshman year – until a knee injury knocked him out of action.

“I was diving for the ball and my left leg extended too far,” Kho recalls. “I didn’t think it was that serious until an MRI showed I had torn the lateral meniscus in my left knee.”

Kho had to undergo surgery (along with five months of rehab) for the first time in his life, an experience that inspired him to pursue a career as an emergency physician.

“Seeing how the doctor was so successful in helping me out made me realize that I want to do that for other people,” Kho says. “That’s my passion.”

Of course, if Kho winds up making the national team, he realizes he may have to put his medical school plans on hold to pursue his other passion. 

Whatever happens, he considers it an honor to have represented UML, and his hometown, at the national tryouts.

“The volleyball community in Lowell is very big,” says Kho, who, along with his brother, still helps out with the volleyball program at Lowell High. “I’m glad I had this opportunity to put Lowell on the map.”