SE: Five Wildcats Compete at National Team Tryout

Five K-State volleyball players had the opportunity to get outside of their comfort zones and compete at a higher level last month.

Rising seniors Katie Brand, Brooke Sassin and Kersten Kober, along with up-and-coming junior and sophomore Bryna Vogel and Macy Flowers, respectively, all spent the weekend of February 19-21, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, competing alongside some of the nation’s top athletes at the the U.S. Women’s National Team Open Tryouts.

“They talked about the environment and how competitive it was, how the intensity level, the competitiveness, everything is just at another level,” said K-State head coach Suzie Fritz. “So the hope for us is that when you send them out there and they see and feel that, that they’re able to bring back that intensity and raise the level in our gym.”

Every year colleges around the nation send their top players to the tryouts. This year, approximately 231 athletes from 88 schools across the country showed up at the U.S. Olympic Training Center ready to compete for spots on the U.S. Women’s National Team and the U.S. Collegiate National Team. 

“It was a really cool opportunity to experience the different level of play,” said Flowers, a middle blocker from Chanute, Kansas, about her first time at the tryout. “I’d say the biggest thing I learned was stepping out of my comfort zone. You show up, and even though I had teammates go with me, I was not on courts with any of them. Everyone is split up, so you have to learn to play with other people who you’ve never met before. It makes you expand your level of communication.”

While it was the first time trying out for Flowers, Sassin and Vogel, it was the second time for Kober and the third time for Brand.

“It’s always really exciting, especially to go back now and see a lot of the familiar faces that I’ve met in the past or even played with these past couple of years,” explained Brand, who was among the top-ranked setters at this year’s tryout. “It was a lot more comfortable from the start, so when I went in, I already had a lot more confidence. That was really nice; it made it more fun.”

Brand, a two-time All-America Honorable Mention by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) and two-time All-Big 12 First Team recipient, was selected to the U.S. Collegiate National Team program in both 2014 and 2015 and anticipates a selection again this year. This year’s selections for the U.S. Collegiate National Teams will be announced at the end of March. 

K-State associate head coach Jeff Grove traveled to the open tryouts with the group. Grove has volunteered with the tryouts for the past 10 years and assists U.S. National Team Head Coach Karch Kiraly and his staff as they direct the tryout process. Grove has worked as an evaluator at the tryouts and is familiar with what it takes to stand out on the court. 

“Every year on the ride there I try to explain to them the process of how to be successful, what’s going to be expected of them and what the evaluators are looking for because I’ve been on that side of it,” explained Grove. “The best preparation is experience. Part of Brand’s success this year was that she’s been there before. She knew exactly what to expect, she knew the drills they were going to do. She knew how to be successful in that system, and she was.”

While selection to train with the U.S. Collegiate National Team is, of course, everyone’s goal, the opportunity to gain substantial experience from the process is just as valuable. 

“From a hitter standpoint, I learned a lot about managing,” explained Vogel, an outside hitter form Clearwater, Kansas. “All of us run different systems and different tempos, so we had to adjust. All the girls were really good at managing and they still hit it really hard. It was cool to see other people do that, to see how they managed that situation. I feel like I got a lot out of the whole experience.” 

Once the five were back in their home gym practicing alongside their teammates, Fritz had them each share what they learned at the tryouts. From stepping out of their comfort zone, stepping up their intensity and bettering their communication, the group took a step up at this year’s U.S. Women’s National Team Open Tryouts.  

“For somebody like Macy who is out there for the first time, it’s just a great learning experience. Then for somebody like Katie, it’s a totally different level,” said Fritz. “Katie is further along in terms of her experience level, so for her, she’s out there battling for an opportunity to get into the National Team training system. So, for a variety of different reasons, I thought it was a good experience for all of them.”

Selected athletes for the U.S. Women’s National Team or the U.S. Collegiate National Team may begin their training in Anaheim, California, as early as the spring of 2016, or when their scholastic or professional club season has concluded. The U.S. Collegiate National Team has three competition options for a selected athletes, including the Tour of China (12 Athletes) from June 18-July 1, the Tour of Europe (12 athletes) from July 5-16, and the USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships (36 athletes) from June 21-30, in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

“You play with such good athletes that it sets the standard so high,” said Kober, a defensive setter from Southlake, Texas. “So when we come back here to our gym, it makes me want to set my standard for myself and for my teammates even higher. I learned how to communicate with people that I didn’t know, and that’s going to help me better my relationships here and better my communication with my own teammates.”