SE: Schultejans Taking Advantage of Outside Opportunities for K-State

Alyssa Schultejans was thrown into the fire in her first season at K-State because of an injury. The heated competition in the Big 12 helped improve her game tremendously, but until recently those strides went unnoticed because K-State’s talented pool of outside hitters limited her opportunities. 

Still, she prepared each week with the sole intention of becoming a better player to help her team. Sooner or later, she would get her chance. 

When she did, Schultejans was ready. The Silver Lake product became a silver lining in the Wildcats’ three-set loss at No. 6 Kansas on October 12. The sophomore pumped out 14 kills on a .310 hitting percentage against the Jayhawks, who rank fourth nationally by holding opponents to .137 on attacks. 

“I think, honestly, it’s a matter of getting out of your own head. That’s kind of my thing that I’ve been working on,” she said of her recent performances. “It really helps out my confidence having that going forward and having that behind me, saying, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ It just made my confidence go up.”

Schultejans collected a team-high 41 kills in K-State’s last three matches, which included a road win over Oklahoma and a home victory against West Virginia. Her 41 kills tied the top three-match span of her career and eclipsed her previous best three-match stretch in conference play. 

“Individually, I have been working on hitting higher and seeing what’s in front of me,” said Schultejans, who finished her high school career as the all-time kills leader in Kansas. “Last year, I kind of had tunnel vision, so I would predetermine where I would hit and I think this year it’s more of seeing the court, seeing what’s in front of me and working with what I get.”

For the most part, Schultejans’ talent overshadowed her lack of experience last year. She tallied 262 kills, fourth on the team, and accumulated a team-best 25 aces, earning her a spot on the All-Big 12 Freshman Team. 

Sure, a large chunk of her playing time came because of a season-ending injury to Kylee Zumach — the 2014 Big 12 Freshman of the Year — early in the season, but Schultejans’ performances proved depth at outside hitter would not be a problem for K-State in 2016. 

“They have all earned opportunities and they are all very comparable hitters. It is really about production in that moment because going into it I think we have a tremendous amount of confidence in all of them,” K-State head coach Suzie Fritz said on her most recent K-StateHD.TV show. “It is about who can produce results when it matters the most. Our staff has a tremendous amount of confidence in all of those outside hitters right now.”

With Zumach back this year, along with the return of Second Team All-Big 12 outside hitter Brooke Sassin, the battle for playing time at that spot has been intensely beneficial for all involved.  

“It’s pushed me a lot. It’s really nice having three really competitive hitters on the outside. I think it’s pushed all of us to become better because you can’t slack off, ever,” Schultejans said. “You have to always be at your best because you have someone right behind you or you’re right behind the next person. It’s been really beneficial to our team and it’s been beneficial to have really good outsides have that competition.”

Schultejans kill total may be down from a year ago, but her average production is up. She ranks fourth for the Wildcats in kill per set (2.56) and first in aces per set (0.31), with both averages being higher than last year’s. 

She credited her teammates in helping her ease into an increased role. 

“Honestly, we have such good chemistry that it makes it really easy for people to come in and out of the matches,” she said. “Everyone is really encouraging and I think it makes it so easy having the components of good passers behind you and having good setters getting you the ball that you need. I think that’s why it’s been really easy to get back into the swing of things.”

Also, there’s the experience factor. 

Since her first practice in the spring of 2015, Schultejans, who graduated early from Silver Lake to get ahead at K-State, said the game has slowed down “quite a bit” for her. 

“It seems so long ago. I just remember almost being in a daze because it was all going so fast and you’re trying to figure out your system, figure out all of the calls,” she said of her first practice. “The second year, you have things figured out more. You’re more comfortable with the setter, the system, so I think that’s really helped, having just one year of experience.”

Additionally, her game has adapted and evolved to become more effective. Specifically, she said her on-court vision has taken a step up. 

“You have to be able to see what’s open and see where you can go,” she said. “I think that’s been something I’ve been trying to grow on, to try to see the court a little better.”

Coincidentally, Schultejans said the team’s focus has been in the same area heading into a tough week that starts at Iowa State on Wednesday and ends with Baylor in Ahearn Field House on Saturday. The Wildcats (16-5, 5-3) haven’t topped the Cyclones in Ames, Iowa, since 2007 and will look for revenge against a Baylor team that they were swept by earlier this season. 

“I think this week is huge. Obviously, you can’t overlook any team in the Big 12. Going to Iowa State, that’s a really hard place to play in, so that would be a big win for us. We’ve lost there in previous years, so I think that we’re hungry for a win,” said Schultejans of Wednesday’s match that will be nationally broadcast on ESPNU at 6 p.m. “Then Baylor on Saturday is going to be a really good game. I think that having home court advantage against them is going to be something that’s really beneficial to us.”