Click here for video highlights of K-State volleyball's first practice.
August 11, 2013
By Kelly McHugh
K-State volleyball's trip to Kazan, Russia, to represent the United States in the World University Games from July 6-17 meant a lot more than just volleyball.
For the Wildcats, it meant grasping the new culture and growing as a team as well as competing at new levels, and, along with all American collegiate athletes from 12 different sports chosen to represent Team USA, K-State volleyball became a part of history.
Since the boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Russia, the United States has not been represented on Russian soil on any athletics stage.
"Our group leader immediately informed us that our group is the first large group of American athletes to compete in Russia in over 30 years and that we are making history. What an honor!" Senior Courtney Cook wrote on July 7 for the team's World University Games Blog. "This was an experience that my teammates and I will never forget... To be able to represent your country on such a large scale is the most humbling and exciting thing an athlete can ever experience. It made me feel so proud to be an American."
After returning from the trip, K-State head coach Suzie Fritz also recognized the significance of representing the United States at the World University Games.
"The set of Americans, not just us as a volleyball team, but all the sports that were representing the US going over there, we were the first US team in Russia since the boycott of the Olympic games," Fritz said. "The responsibility that we had, we took that responsibility very seriously, how we represented ourselves, how we were being viewed and looked at by not just the Russian population, but the rest of the world as well."
With the 2013 season approaching quick - K-State travels to Las Vegas, Nev., for the UNLV Invitational from August 30-31 to tip off its 2013 season - Fritz said there were many aspects of the trip to Russia that will help strengthen her team this year on the court.
"I think there were tremendous benefits," Fritz said, "the training period leading up to the event, the opportunity to compete at that level. We played six matches over the course of seven days, and you can't do that at practice, you can't emulate that in practice. We got more done in 10 days then we could have possibly imagined, and so we hope that that will carry on into the season."
The competition once the team arrived was tough and many of the teams K-State faced were made up of women who have had experience on a professional level. On July 8, K-State played its first match and was swept by Poland. The following two games, the Wildcats came up short and were swept by both Czech Republic and host nation Russia. The team's first win came with a sweep over Norway on July 13, and in its final match of the trip, team USA fell to China, 3-1.
"We had some teams get after us, it was very competitive," Fritz said. "A lot of the teams we were playing had some level of professional or Olympic experience, and so we're not there yet. It was a jump for us. It was another level, just as when players make the jump from high school or club volleyball into the collegiate ranks, it was on another level. We had to make adjustments and it was more than beneficial in that perspective."
From bonding as teammates while experiencing a new culture to bonding on the volleyball courts while representing the Red, White and Blue, K-State's trip to Russia is one the team won't soon forget.
"It was so much more than that the cultural opportunity," Fritz said, "The Olympic level experience, just the whole thing from start to finish was really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us."
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