K-State Volleyball 2014 seniors, including (left to right) Taylor Johnson, Natali Jones, Gina Madonia, Chelsea Keating and Mary Alice O'Reilly (Photo by Scott. D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)
August 29, 2014
By Kelly McHugh
K-State head coach Suzie Fritz is up against something she's never been up against before - and she's loving every minute of it.
The 2014 K-State volleyball team welcomed a group of nine newcomers before the 2014 season, and six of those nine are true freshmen.
The six fresh-out-of-high-school players bring a new vibe to the team - a young, excited vibe - and it's something Fritz said she enjoys immensely.
"I've never [had a team like this one], but it's really good for me right now," said Fritz. "You just can't like them anymore. They make me nuts, but I couldn't love them any more. They're so fun to be around. They're so fun to coach. They literally love everything. They love being here, they love coming to practice and they have not taken a day off. They're so hungry, eager and excited that it's not hard to enjoy being around them."
K-State volleyball opens its 2014 slate with a match against Green Bay tomorrow evening at 7 p.m., in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The team is set to compete in the Green Bay Country Inn & Suites Tournament and, in addition to Friday's match, will take on South Dakota at 10 a.m., Saturday morning and Arizona at 4:30 p.m., Saturday afternoon.
Along with the nine newcomers, the Wildcats return three starters, including preseason All-Big 12 selection Katie Brand.
Brand concluded her redshirt freshman season by earning a spot on the 2013 All-Big 12 Freshman Team. In her first season on the court, Brand never missed a match and recorded 1,056 assists, 95 kills, 87 blocks, 27 aces and 169.0 points. With a hard-working mentality, Fritz said Wildcat fans can expect even more this season from the talented setter.
"Katie sets a standard for work that is unparalleled, and we have a lot of really hard workers on this team," explained Fritz. "She's the player who shows up about an hour early for practice and she'll stay about an hour after practice. You literally have to kick her out of the gym. The fact that we do that with her, it really sets the tone because here's one of your best players, somebody who is a seasoned veteran, and she just can't get enough of it."
Along with Brand, this year's returning Wildcat seniors Chelsea Keating, Taylor Johnson, Gina Madonia and Natali Jones will also be looked upon to provide leadership for the young squad.
However, it's not exclusively the seniors who are providing leadership. While the K-State veterans know the program better than anyone, Fritz explained this year's team shares a unique bond. Everyone is out for everyone.
"I think different teams lead in different ways and this team is all in it," said Fritz. "It's a very large team with a really wonderful dynamic, but the seniors aren't afraid to let the freshmen lead and the freshmen aren't afraid to lead. All those in between seem to understand that they're all better if they're all giving.
"Everybody has responsibility for leadership, and some teams really take that to heart and some don't, but every player on this roster feels some sense of leadership responsibility. Even the seniors don't' think it's all about them, they think it's about 'us.' That's how you want it to be."
The Wildcats welcome three transfers to the court this season in sophomores Sheridan Zarda (Nebraska) and Brooke Sassin (Mississippi State), and senior Mary Alice O'Reilly (San Jose State).
Sassin and Zarda got a head start in getting acclimated to their new school as the pair joined the Wildcats in the spring semester.
Another all-around team player, Fritz said she is happy with Zarda's ability to transition into the K-State volleyball program so well.
"She's in it and she's been a wonderful addition to our team," explained Fritz. "Sheridan's another player that can provide a lift for us in the back row. She's one of the libero candidates right now and is playing really well. She's made the transition very smoothly."
Along with the three transfers, the six "hungry, eager and excited" group of freshmen are also ready to go.
From Kylee Zumach, a 6-foot-4 outside hitter from Buffalo, Minnesota, to Kali Eaken, a high school All-American from Bishop Miege in Kansas City, the six bring a new energy to the court each and every day.
"I love them," laughed Fritz. "They're loose, they're quirky, they're funny and they're unfocused sometimes, but they're a blast. They are wonderful learners. The really fun thing as a coach with a young team is, in two days, you make so much progress. It's like coaching little kids. You say, 'Do it like this,' for a couple of days and then, all of a sudden, a light comes on for them.
"With [this team], the sky's the limit. They are learning fast, they're embracing everything, they love everything about everything. It's such a wonderful, positive energy."
The Wildcats' first home match will be at 6 p.m., on September 4, in Bramlage Coliseum as K-State will take on Arkansas for its first match of the Varney's Invitational. For the complete 2014 K-State volleyball schedule, click here.
"We're excited [about the schedule], as always," explained Fritz. "We try to get a balance of competitiveness and some pretty significant challenges early on. There's plenty of those in there, and we try to balance that with matches that will give us an opportunity to work on some things and use some personnel."
Single-match tickets for the Wildcats' 13-match home schedule are on sale now, with the complete list of promotions available here.