SE: Zumach Returns to Court with Greater Love for Volleyball

In nearly 10 years of playing competitive volleyball, Kylee Zumach had never suffered an injury that held her out of a match. The tree-jumping, four-wheeler riding Minnesotan seemed immune to injury off the court as well. 

This made handling a moment that occurred about a year ago extremely difficult for Zumach, who led K-State with 412 kills as a freshman. 

The 6-foot-4 outside hitter landed awkwardly on her left leg in the second match of 2015. Zumach was forced to the ground by an unfamiliar pop, and her spirits followed when an MRI delivered the dreaded news of a torn ACL, ending the 2014 Big 12 Freshman of the Year’s second season. 

“That was really hard,” said a fully healthy Zumach at K-State’s media day. “I started volleyball in like fourth grade and never had to miss a game. Missing a whole season, that was a big change for me.” 

On the other side of the injury, Zumach now swings, digs and passes with a much different perspective. 

“I have such a greater love for the game now and I’m so much more excited to play with my teammates,” she said. “I think the biggest change is my appreciation for the game.”

Physically, Zumach had to start from scratch. Mentally, she took every chance she could to improve. 

“She did a phenomenal job of getting herself ready and doing everything that was asked of her and more,” said K-State head coach Suzie Fritz. “She’s an extremely competitive individual, so it’s wonderful having her back.” 

In the weight room, Zumach rebuilt the muscle in her left leg, which she said looked like a “chicken leg” after being inactive for so long. “It was starting all over again,” she added. 

From the sideline, Zumach watched the high-speed game, studying match after match and cataloging mental notes to add to an already high volleyball IQ. 

“Mentally and cognitively, I understand the game more, so that’s helped a lot,” said Zumach, who received a medical hardship for the year and is a redshirt sophomore in 2016. “When you’re playing, it’s a whole different story. It’s so fast. When you get to see it all year and that’s all you do and all you do is watch film, you just understand the game more. I think my IQ has gone up a lot.” 

Zumach’s return to action this spring was limited, allowing her to work on her back row play to improve her passing and defense. Eventually, she hit a milestone in her road to recovery: going a full week without having to sit out. 

She said this gave her a needed boost after months filled with frustration. 

“I was, like, ‘I’m back. This is it…finally,’” Zumach recalled thinking. 

From there, it was mostly a matter of regaining trust in herself and her left knee, which now sports a sizable brace. 

“Getting back on the court and trusting myself was probably the hardest part, but playing volleyball was natural,” Zumach said. “I’m so excited to be able to practice again.” 

She’s also been pushed in practice more by an increased amount of depth at her position, developed during her absence last season. 

Senior setter Katie Brand said she’s seen the returning depth, with zero players graduating last year, benefit Zumach and the team already. 

“I think the biggest part right now is the competition has raised to another level,” she said. “When you know somebody’s right behind you, right on your tail and they could come in for you at any moment, you’re working that much harder to keep your spot.” 

Zumach, an AVCA All-America Honorable Mention two years ago, agreed. 

“It’s so good having competition the whole time. You can’t become complacent with yourself. You’re always wanting more, having to do more,” she said. “Our outsides are fantastic this year, every single one of them. Coming back, I’m thinking, ‘OK, this is what I need to go do,’ so it’s been nice to see what my goals are and I think it’s really helpful.”

Zumach, who registered a match-high 13 kills in the Purple/White Scrimmage on Saturday, will return to the court this Friday when K-State opens its season against Arizona in Hawaii for the Chevron Rainbow Wahine Invitational. The Wildcats will also play the host in sixth-ranked Hawaii and fourth-ranked Wisconsin, who Zumach was once verbally committed to, in the stacked start to the season. 

While eager to return to game action, Zumach knows it wouldn’t be possible without the help of a few people. 

“Our trainer Emily (Trausch), I’ve leaned on her a lot and she helped me, and all of my teammates were more than helpful,” Zumach said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”