Wildcats Ready for Russia, World University Games

Dakota Kaufman

July 3, 2013

World University Games Homepage

Col. Mike Morgan Speech

After more than a month of hard work in the gym, the time has come for the Kansas State volleyball team to represent the United States at the World University Games. The Wildcats held their final practice at Ahearn Field House on Wednesday morning in preparation for the games and are set to leave Thursday morning for Kazan, Russia to compete for Team USA at the World University Games.

"We are anxious. We're very excited and nervous, so I think the combination of that in anxious. It's been a long time coming," said senior Tristan McCarty. "We've been waiting for a long time to feel like we're leaving in the next morning, and that's actually happening. For us to be in the gym for over a month now and be practicing every day, lifting every morning, it's been a lot of work, but we're excited."

K-State announced in April that the volleyball team had accepted an invitation to play as the women's indoor volleyball team at the World University Games, and the team began official practices in June to prepare for the Games. In addition to regular practices and lifting weights, the team also participated in a series of lessons on Russian culture with Dr. David Stone from the Kansas State History Department, as well as the athletes doing their own research and presentations to their teammates.

The team begins pool play on Monday when Team USA will take on Poland. Also in USA's pool is Czech Republic and host nation Russia.

For all the Wildcats, the opportunity to wear a uniform representing the USA is one they are looking forward to and very appreciative of. Bringing that message home was a very special guest on Wednesday as Col. Mike Morgan from the volleyball team's partner unit spoke to the team before practice.

"Col. Morgan is a big influence for us. He is the former Colonel for the Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Riley, and they've become dear friends to us," Fritz said. "We have such an appreciation for what they do in regards to representing our country, serving our country, risking their lives to fight for ours, and he has come in a couple times and expressed how important the value, the honor of wearing Red, White and Blue and actually going and representing your country is. It's a very big deal and one we take a lot of pride in."

The team will play six matches over seven days once pool play begins on Monday and face some of the best players in the world. One of the five core goals of the K-State Athletics Department is providing its student-athletes with a world-class student-athlete experience, and competing in the World University Games is one way the Wildcats will get that experience.

"I like the opportunity, and I think there are a lot of things we can take out of it," Fritz said. "We get to play against some of the best players in the world, literally, these will be Olympians. If they're not already, they will be Olympians. They will be some of the best players in the world between the ages of 18 and 28. I think we have a tremendous opportunity, and I'm more interested in how we respond to that opportunity."

Another opportunity has presented itself to one Wildcat in particular for this trip as well. Senior Dakota Kaufman will be able to see where her family came from.

Kaufman's great-great grandfather emigrated from Kazan to the United States, and she may be able to visit the grave of her great-great grandfather on the other side of her family.

"It is extra special. I hope I'm able to kind of see the culture and stuff like that, and we've been kind of joking that there might be someone on the other side of the net that's my cousin that I have no idea about," Kaufman said. "I'm the first one to go back over to Russia since they left, so it's going to be a great honor to go back over there."

While also having the chance to experience her roots, Kaufman is most excited about representing where she is from.

"It means the world to me. I can't believe that we are able to go over there and represent our country," Kaufman said. "That is something that not a lot of people get to say they do. It's such a great honor to be able to do that."

The team leaves for Russia on Thursday morning for a 22-hour travel day and will be with their fellow Team USA members at the Games for the opening ceremonies Friday evening. Fans can keep up with the team's travels and adventures at the World University Games online with a team's homepage for the Games at kstatesports.com.