She grew up near Tokyo, living in Japan until her freshman year of college at Indiana Wesleyan University, where the libero dominated the Wildcats’ volleyball court like no one else the school has ever seen.
But there’s so much more to her than just being the girl who wore the opposite-color jersey than her teammates. Masuda crochets, says she wants to write a book someday and is a self-proclaimed ninja.
And according to her coaches and teammates, she also has swagger.
“Kelsey embodied that so well because in her personality, she would never ever want to show anything but humility,” Wildcats’ coach Candace Moats said. “But that word gave her an outlet to find her way in that, ‘I am good and I’m going to go out there and I’m going to show that, but I’m going to have fun doing it.’”
“Swagger” is the term the Wildcat volleyball team used for its quiet confidence during the 2011 season, a campaign that saw IWU go 36-6 and make it all the way to the NAIA National Championship Tournament. As one of the team’s leaders and league’s most outstanding players, Masuda was a great example of that ideal.
“She did have that swag,” said Wildcat Becca Brandes (so). “She gained that confidence as we went through the year. She was a leader.”
Masuda didn’t always have those qualities, however. Ask her team about her growth in assertiveness and confidence, even over the last two seasons, and you’ll get the same message: She was good when she got here, but great when she left.
Coach Moats said that shift in mindset greatly improved her on-court performance during her junior and senior years.
“That self-efficacy about herself; believing that she could do it, just seeing that she could take our team somewhere and that she was a big role in that was definitely a part of the self-confident role that came with that,” Moats said. “I don’t think it would have come if she would have never let herself believe that she could achieve these things.”
“Kelsey is a little more quiet, obviously she comes from a different kind of culture, and she’s used to not pitting in her say as much,” Brandes added. “Throughout the year she became better at talking out loud and telling people what she was feeling; she gained so much confidence.”
Having been raised in Japan, a place where she says the culture is to naturally be less vocal in most respects, Masuda started at IWU with a plan to stay in the shadows.
“I never thought that coming in I could step out of being timid,” Masuda said. “I’ve always been confident in things that I do, but as far as having a voice and stepping out of that fear, I never thought I would be able to do that. Volleyball has allowed me to step up as a leader and have a voice.”
Masuda’s extensive journey, both geographically and in her growth, has been a long time coming. She went to a missionary school outside Tokyo, where she said most graduates come to the United States. Early on, Masuda had her sights set on California, “Because, you know, California is California,” she said. But when several of her friends headed for the Golden State, the independent Masuda began looking elsewhere. With a set of grandparents residing in Indianapolis, she began looking at Christian colleges in the area, including Taylor University, Bethel College and IWU.
IWU quickly jumped out from all the rest, thanks in large part to a meaningful conversation Masuda had with coach Moats during their first meeting.
“Coach grabbed me, and she got my heart,” Masuda said. “Everything is so much deeper, especially on my team and with Coach, the relationships are much deeper, the conversations are more transparent. It was really good for me, it changed my outlook on relationships.”
One unique relationship Masuda will take away from her Wildcat experience is with Moats. The two have continued past the end of the volleyball season and even play together on a YMCA co-ed team each week.
“I consider her my friend,” Masuda said. “We just talk all the time about everything stuff that’s going on in our lives, deep things, fun things. It’s not the type of coach-player relationship where it ends after you graduate.”
But things haven’t always been that easy for Masuda. While her mother is American, growing up in Japan and switching cultures as a teenager wasn’t as seamless a transition as she expected.
“I thought I knew what it meant to live in America, but I didn’t; I had to adapt really fast,” Masuda said. “In Japan, you hide a lot. You hide a lot of hurt, you hide a lot of struggle, but here, especially on my team and the girls that I am with, it’s just an open book and it was just really intense for me.”
Even little things like sense of humor changed dramatically.
“Japanese humor is very blunt and very physical humor as opposed to sarcasm. I would say things thinking they were funny, and I would offend people,” Masuda said. “It wasn’t bad offensive, it was just like, ‘Oh, that’s not funny here.’”
Once she figured everything out, however, it was no laughing matter for her opponents on the court.
In her four years playing for the Wildcats, Masuda tallied 2,451 digs and helped lead the 2012 senior class to a 107-63 record, including 888 digs during IWU’s historic 2011 run. Her senior season efforts earned her nine MCC Libero of the Week awards, the MCC Libero of the Year title and a spot on the NAIA All-American Third Team.
While it may have taken a while for her to build up that swagger and success, according to Moats, the potential for greatness was obvious in her from her first practice with the team. Masuda was just a recruit going through drills with the team when it came time to run five consecutive suicides, a feared exercise the team had been building up to for weeks. Coach Moats told Masuda she didn’t have to go all-out on the drill, but, as all of IWU would find out over the next four years, Masuda doesn’t do anything halfway.
“I don’t know what a sprint is like, to go easy on a sprint,” Masuda said. “If you’re not sprinting, you’re jogging. You don’t jog suicides.”
With none of the buildup the rest of the players had, Masuda did the five suicides and promptly walked over to the nearest trash can and threw up.
She looks back on the memory with a laugh.
“You want to put it all on the floor, and I literally did,” she said.
Masuda has come a long way. She admits that she still has a long way to go as well. As she prepares to graduate from IWU with degrees in computer graphics and business administration, her short-term goals are to move to Michigan in June, where she will do freelance photography work and nanny part-time. Long term, Masuda hopes to return to Japan to do missions work, with hopes of integrating art.
Moats said no matter what Masuda does, she will be successful at it because of her work ethic and heart for people.
“Wherever she goes, whatever she does, I know this: She’s going to love people, I know she’s going to work super hard at being the best she can be, and I know she’s going to love the Lord,” Moats said.
Masuda also wants to continue playing volleyball in some capacity. Show her a clip of the Wildcats’ MCC Tournament Championship victory over Taylor and her fire for the game ignites. But at the same time, Masuda is looking toward her future and the opportunities it holds.
“I miss it, I miss it a lot,” Masuda said. “The passion is still there; the desire to play volleyball is still there, but it’s shifting. I love the game, I still love the girls, but it’s not ahold of my heart anymore.”
Masuda has forever etched her name in the annals of IWU volleyball history. If her career with the Wildcats is any indication of how the rest of her life will go, she’ll continue to show her swagger no matter where the ball bounces.