Wildcats Building Leadership in Spring Workouts

Tristan McCarty

March 7, 2013

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Preparations for the 2013 volleyball season have already begun and the K-State Wildcats are in full swing with spring practices in Ahearn Field House. After falling in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season and losing five players to graduation, Head Coach Suzie Fritz and her Wildcats are gearing up for what will hopefully be another postseason appearance this fall.

The Wildcats are in team workouts now after some open gym time on their own, and all the work put in this semester is what could pave the way for the program’s 15th NCAA Tournament appearance.

“Suzie says a lot during the fall, the teams that play in December are the ones who worked hard in January and February,” said senior to-be Tristan McCarty, “when nobody wants to get up at 5:30 in the morning and go lift and run, when they don’t want to have practices on Friday afternoons because they want to get out for the weekend, and that’s us right now. We’re hoping to put in our time right now so it pays off at the end of the season.”

The spring practice season also will include four playing dates with two tournaments and one marquee match-up with 2011 NCAA runner-up Illinois.

K-State will host a spring tournament at UMKC on April 6 before playing Washburn at home on April 17. A few days later on April 20, the Wildcats will play at the Lone Star College Showcase in Dallas, Texas. The spring competitions will close with a match against Illinois on April 27 in Fulton, Mo., on the campus of William Woods College.

A lot of the work going on in the gym right now is adjusting to a new setter after senior Caitlyn Donahue finished her time with the Wildcats. Katie Brand redshirted during her freshman season this fall and still has four years of eligibility, and Bailey Shurbet graduated high school early to enroll at K-State in January and give the Wildcats two setters during spring workouts.

“It is a very difficult adjustment, especially when you have hit off one setter for a majority of your career, like most of these players have,” Fritz said. “However, we have two very hard working, capable and talented setters in both Katie and Bailey that are quickly establishing this as their team. The way in which they work has earned the respect and appreciation of the team.”

Despite the Wildcats losing four starters in seniors Kuulei Kabalis, Kathleen Ludwig and Alex Muff in addition to Donahue at the setter position, last year’s team had six juniors. That makes for a large senior class with plenty of playing experience. Of the seniors to-be, McCarty, Kaitlynn Pelger, Lilla Porubek, Courtney Traxson and Dakota Kaufman all have starting experience and significant playing time on the court in their careers.

All that playing experience is giving the Wildcats plenty to build off of during the spring workouts and it is allowing all the players to play a key role in developing the identity of the 2013 Wildcats.

“We have a lot of players on the team that have been incredibly supportive teammates and an important part of our day to day progress that are ready for their opportunity to play a more contributing role,” Fritz said. “They are a very hard working group and they genuinely enjoy working and playing together. We strongly believe that everyone on the team has leadership responsibility, regardless of their roles. At this point, that leadership continues to emerge within the team and within each one of the student-athletes.”

Three sophomores from last year’s team also have a good amount of playing time to give K-State even more depth. Thanks to that playing experience, McCarty said the younger players on the team are also comfortable in playing a leadership role as every player is working to make the team better in whatever way possible.

“We have such a big class. We’re very good at balancing that leadership. Our senior class is huge, but everybody else below us brings a tremendous amount of energy and leadership qualities as well,” McCarty said. “We have really good balance across the board with things like that.”

The Wildcats have two new players this spring as Shurbet is not the only addition to the team. Dallas Gardner enrolled at K-State after playing volleyball this fall at Northwest Missouri State. Gardner played setter and outside hitter as the team finished sixth in the MIAA. In high school, Gardner won four consecutive state championships at St. James Academy. Shurbet played setter for Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio, Texas, and led the team to a district championship in the fall.

“Both players are doing what most new players do, but they are working incredibly hard, learning a lot, and having good and bad days,” Fritz said. “Bailey graduated from high school early to join us. I think, as a setter, that she will gain invaluable experience going into the fall by training and playing at this level all spring. Having two talented setters in the gym creates a wonderfully competitive environment each day that will be incredibly beneficial for the team as a whole.
“Dallas transferred to K-State for academic reasons, as she is an engineering major. I have been very impressed with her work ethic and coachability. She is making a position change from being a setter/hitter to a defensive specialist at this level and continues to make improvement quickly.”

As the spring workouts continue heading into the tournaments and competitions, Fritz and her Wildcats will work on individual goals for each player on the team while also finding ways to make improvements as a team in multiple areas with an emphasis on better passing and getting the new setters comfortable with the offense and hitters.

“We're focused on enjoying the process of getting better, continuing to build trusting working relationships and defining our roles and responsibilities,” Fritz said. “Our technical goals are very specific to each player and each task, but overall, we have to manage first contact in regards to passing and digging, we need to get two new setters competition ready and we need to continue to develop specific things in each phase of the game.”