SE: Simple Approach the Secret to Sassin's Success

Brooke Sassin doesn’t have any rituals to prepare for each match. Well, maybe just one: don’t overthink it. 

She laughs at it now, but K-State’s leader in kills used to struggle with keeping the mental part of her game from negatively affecting the physical part. She laughs because it’s no longer an issue.

“That’s something I think comes with maturity and experience playing,” Sassin said. “When I used to play, I’d get riled up if I’d mess up once or think too much about a previous play, but I’ve gotten to a point where I trust my abilities, I trust the process and I know that things aren’t always going to go your way. You just have to move on to the next play.”

Good or bad, Sassin moves on from plays, matches and seasons fairly quickly. She doesn’t linger on losses or cling to career performances, including her recent 21-kill outing — a season high and career high for her in Big 12 play — in K-State’s four-set win over TCU on Saturday. 

“I think we learned pretty early on that less was best. The less feedback we gave her, the less we gave her to think about, the less she processed, the more fluid she could play,” K-State head coach Suzie Fritz said of Sassin, who fits a phrase coined by Hugh McCutcheon, former head coach for the women’s U.S. National Team. “‘When you’re thinking, you’re stinking.’ I think there’s no question that Sassin is that way.”

Sassin has recorded double-digit kills in 12 of K-State’s 18 matches, including five of the last six. She leads K-State with five matches with 15 kills or more, another product of her think-less-do-more approach. 

“The less I think, honestly, the better I do sometimes, which is weird, especially being a senior,” said Sassin, now with 207 kills on the season to rank 10th in the Big 12 for kills per set. “I just go out there and do anything I can, because with it being my senior year, I obviously want to win a bunch of games and I want to go really far. I’ll do anything I can do to win.” 

Sassin can’t pinpoint an exact moment or time period when her clear-headed attack became the norm, but she does know what allowed it to take place. 

“It just happened when I started to become a confident player,” Sassin said. “When I became really confident in myself and my abilities, it just came with it — being laid back, easygoing and not stressing too much.”

On a team with more than a few energetic and emotionally fueled players, Sassin helps bring balance. 

“I think she balances me out because I’m someone who can get really caught up in emotional plays. She’s just really funny and sarcastic and that always kind of snaps me back to, ‘Hey, chill. Next play.’ She brings that looseness to the game,” said senior Katie Reininger. “She’s grown a lot as a player and has really just dialed down the sassiness of Brooke Sassin and really used it to encourage her teammates and to keep things light and funny. She does a really good job of that.”

Sassin enjoys this role on the team, which travels to face No. 6 Kansas on Wednesday at 6 p.m. 

“I stay relaxed and have fun when I’m playing,” Sassin said. “I think one of my roles that I’ve really fit into is trying to keep everyone calm, cool, collected and help us not get too rattled if things aren’t going our way. Just keeping that composure.”

Like any leadership role, it took time for Sassin to reach the right comfort level with her team. 

When she transferred to K-State after one year with Mississippi State, the San Antonio, Texas, native was, in her own words, “hesitant and shy.” The transition to a new place, program and teammates, was tough. With time and after putting up the second-most kills (312) for K-State as a sophomore, Sassin realized she belonged. 

“I think after my first season I knew that I do play an important role on this team. It made the chemistry a lot better,” said Sassin, a Second Team All-Big 12 selection last season with 378 kills. “Suzie has a lot of confidence in me and I think that’s something I really appreciate. I know that I’ve earned it up to this point and I need to continue to do everything I can to help this team.”

Sassin’s biggest impact may lie in her swinging ability, but Fritz said she’s certainly not a one-dimensional player. She also ranks fourth on the team in digs and third in aces. 

“For her, it’s not one thing that makes her special. It is all the things that she can do for her team,” Fritz said. “She’s a really explosive athlete, but she’s also developed some of the finer skills — passing, digging and serving. She’s become a very complete volleyball player. It isn’t one thing that really defines her. It’s the cumulative impact of all she does for her team.”
Reininger agreed. 

“She’s also a really smart player,” Reininger said. “She doesn’t have the size of some of the other outsides we go up against, like a Texas hitter, but she is smart. She is consistent as a player.”

Sassin passed the credit back to Fritz and K-State’s coaching staff for her development with the Wildcats. 

“The player I’ve become since I’ve been here has been awesome, and I attribute a lot of that to Suzie and the coaches, of course, but it’s been a great journey so far,” Sassin said. “It’s going to be tough to leave.”

Sunflower Showdown Set for National Broadcast

K-State has the better RPI (16 to 32), but KU has the better AVCA ranking (6 to receiving votes) and record (15-2 to 14-4). K-State hits at a higher percentage (.260 to .238), but KU defends more effectively (.138 to .211). 

The stats and rankings etch a glimpse into what the first Sunflower Showdown of the season should look like: two talented and well-coached teams squaring off. 

“It’s going to be competitive, everyone is going to go all out and want to beat each other because it’s that rivalry,” Sassin said. “I think in the end we have to not let that get the best of us and just play to the best of our abilities.”

The match will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU, Wednesday at 6 p.m., when K-State looks to knock off a Jayhawk team that has gotten the better of the Wildcats in seven of the last eight meetings. 

“They’re a really good team, obviously,” Sassin said of KU, which made the Final Four last season. “They’ve proven that this season and last season, but I think if we play our game, we can beat anyone, honestly.” 

At the net, Kelsie Payne (233 kills) and Madison Rigdon (223) lead KU, each ranking in the top 10 in the Big 12 in kills per set. As a team, the Jayhawks have held opponents to the third-lowest hitting percentage (.138) in the nation. 

“Our key is always to play our game and win the long rallies too, because they’re good. They’re really good in first swing. They’re good, especially as the rally progresses,” Reininger said. “For us, we have to hang with them and battle with them because the first hit is not always going to be a kill, so we have to keep going at it, keep attacking, be patient and play our game instead of playing their game.”

The Wildcats seek their first win over the Jayhawks since a five-set victory in Lawrence in 2014. K-State enters on an 8-2 stretch, including a four-set victory over TCU on Saturday. 

“We had a good win on Saturday against a really good team, but we have to just move on to the next one and take every game one at a time,” Sassin said. “I think going into it we know we’re capable of beating good teams. It’ll be a good challenge for us.”