Wildcats Preparing to Represent USA in Russia

The volleyball team prepares for the World University Games this summer.

June 11, 2013

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State volleyball was chosen to play as the Team USA representatives at the World University Games this summer in Russia, and the preparations for the Games are officially underway as the team has begun its training session leading into its departure in July.

Practices began last week with the Wildcats trading their purple and white for red, white and blue. After receiving their official practice gear and warm-ups, K-State now has USA emblazoned on its jerseys and is working in the gym to get ready for world class competition.

“I love the opportunity that we have to spend time with our team and prepare them for international competition. It’s a tremendous advantage,” said head coach Suzie Fritz. “I wasn’t in the locker room when they received their USA gear, but I know it’s been a big hit to put on our USA gear every day. It has made the opportunity a little more real for everyone.”

Because the World University Games are an entity outside of the NCAA, the volleyball team is not restricted by NCAA rules concerning summer workouts and is practicing now for the trip to Russia while other teams must wait until training camp in August. The majority of the K-State team is on campus now practicing together as the WUG move closer.

The team is holding daily practices and some two-a-days while also mixing in small group tutoring training sessions to work on specific areas of the game with select groups. Fritz and her staff have also worked with the support staff at K-State and Dr. David Stone from the History department on campus to take time and learn Russian culture, language and other elements that will be beneficial to the experience.

Competition at the World University Games in Kazan, Russia, will be played under international volleyball rules and there will be adjustments to make for the team.

One of the major rules the team must adjust to is fewer substitutions. The NCAA just went from 12 substitutions per set to 15 for the season this past fall. Now, the coaches and athletes will need to adjust to only six substitutions per set during play at the World University Games.

Fewer substitutions will mean more players must play all six rotations and more players will have to adjust to playing defense on the back row. Playing more on the back row for the outside hitters and middle blockers will mean more improvement will come in their passing and digging.

“It’s a process adjusting to the different rules. Associate Head Coach Jeff Grove has really helped us research and prepare for what we are going to see and do. The good thing is that we’ve got some time to play with FIVB rules and we have instilled the changes from day one,” Fritz said. “Fewer substitutions is the biggest change. Therefore, we will have players having to take on bigger roles and responsibilities, primarily in the back row. It’s good for them, but it’s a big adjustment. It will ultimately make them better volleyball players, but it has been somewhat uncomfortable for them initially.”

One player making that adjustment to a bigger potential role on the back row is middle blocker Taylor Johnson.

Johnson has limited experience passing as she has traditionally been subbed out for a defensive specialist when her turn in the rotation to serve has come up in competition for the Wildcats. The adjustment to passing more on the back row has been a challenge for Johnson, but one she is enjoying because she sees the benefit for her own game and the team in improving her skills in that area.

“It’s definitely a big thing. You only have six subs, and normally you have 15, and there is only one entry a game. That means you go in, you play all the way around or you come out and you stay out,” Johnson said. “That’s awesome to say that you’re going to give it all for you team, but it also puts a lot of different roles on different people. Myself, I have to learn how to dig within a month and I have to learn how to pass within a month.”

The volleyball team will leave July 4 for Russia to compete at the World University Games. Opening Ceremonies of the Games are set for July 6 in Kazan, and women’s indoor volleyball competition starts July 8 with pool play. In USA’s pool will be Russia, Czech Republic and Poland.

“As in the past we’re always in here practicing without coaches on our own, but to be able to have coaches in here with us going hard Monday through Friday, some days kind of like two-a-days, it’s a great feeling and kind of a surreal,” Johnson said. “It puts everything into perspective to realize that we are practicing, we are playing to go to Russia.”