New Setters Meshing Well with Wildcats

Katie Brand

March 29, 2013

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State volleyball coach Suzie Fritz has compared the setter position to a quarterback in football. And this spring, she has to find a new quarterback for her Wildcats this fall. With Caitlyn Donahue exhausting her eligibility and now playing professionally in Puerto Rico, the Wildcats have two setters looking to take the reins of the offense and lead the team on the court in 2013.

Redshirt freshman Katie Brand watched Donahue from the sidelines last year and work with her every day in practice. Freshman Bailey Shurbet graduated high school a semester early to enroll at K-State in January and get a leg up on making the adjustment to collegiate volleyball. Both are performing well and getting more comfortable with the offense and hitters each day, and Fritz said while there is a long list of things to work on during spring workouts, getting both Brand and Shurbet ready to play this fall is high on that list.

“We're focused on enjoying the process of getting better, continuing to build trusting working relationships and defining our roles and responsibilities,” Fritz said of the spring training plan. “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.”

For Brand and Shurbet the key is establishing a good setter-hitter relationship with all the hitters on the team. Just like a quarterback must know when a receiver will break his route and where the receiver likes the ball to be thrown on specific routes, the setters must know where to locate the ball when a hitter calls for a specific type of set.

After that relationship has been established, the offense can really begin to take form as hitters and setters get more comfortable on the court together.

Finding that trust could be difficult for some players, especially after hitting off the same setter for three years as was the case with Donahue helping lead the Wildcats to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. But Brand and Shurbet are already gaining the trust of their hitters.

“It is very important establishing communication and trust, being able to feel each other and understand each other,” said All-Big 12 performer Kaitlynn Pelger. “I feel like Katie and Bailey have done a really good job trying to connect with us. Katie has done a phenomenal job. She worked really hard for this year. She redshirted and kind of was under the wing of Donahue and saw how we connected, and I feel like we have that connection already. I’m really excited for next season and to see what she can bring to the team which is going to be absolutely great.”

Being able to connect with the middle blockers and all the outside hitters consistently within the offense for the two new setters will determine how well K-State will be able to attack its opponents in 2013. Brand and Shurbet know that and are already gaining confidence in practice as they see that connection getting better with each practice.

Brand said communicating with the hitters to find where they want the ball located will only improve the rhythm the setters have with them and the sooner that rhythm can be fine tuned, the sooner the Wildcats can be comfortable on the court in all of their new roles.

“We just need to communicate more and be able to find our rhythm right away, which I think we have,” Brand said. “I think everybody has a new role on the team and I feel like we just need to talk more and find our voices. In the fall we need to get going and be comfortable with what we’re doing right away. So right now, we have to get two setters going and I think we’ve been working hard and getting a lot better and a lot more consistent.”

After working in the program for one season already, Brand is familiar with how Fritz wants to run the K-State offense. Now that she has that experience, she has a list of goals for spring workouts to help make herself and the Wildcats better. Those goals include finding her role on the team, improving the setter-hitter relationships and focusing on a list of individual tasks like improving her blocking skills.

As for Shurbet, one goal she had for herself was to make the initial adjustment to collegiate volleyball as quickly as possible. She said the speed of the game was a major adjustment to make, but after beginning that process she is enjoying the process of getting better every day in practice and learning about her new teammates.

“It’s been different. That pace of the game is obviously a lot faster, but the girls have done a great job of communicating and we’ve been in the gym every day trying to get consistent balls to them as setters,” Shurbet said. “It’s been great. I love it.”

Another adjustment Shurbet said she had to make was increasing her knowledge of the game. Already, she is learning to be more aware of what is happening on both sides of the net at the same time so she can put her hitters into better situations. At K-State she is learning to see little wrinkles in the game that she was not aware of in high school.

The San Antonio, Texas, native also could not wait to be a Wildcat, which is one of the reasons she enrolled early.

“I knew I wanted to get here as fast as I could get here. I’m glad. It was the best decision I ever made,” Shurbet said with a smile. “I got to get up here before the season started, get used to the pace of the game, get the rhythm down and everything and figure out how we run our offense and defense. It was a great decision. I’m glad I’m here.”