Cats Rely on Leadership Council in Season Prep

With the departure of six seniors and a majority of underclassmen on this year's squad, the culture within K-State volleyball is, as expected, noticeably different. Throughout the spring and summer, the Wildcat coaching staff noticed the change, citing the way this year's team works together and each person doing a little more as positives.

The one thing that did not change, though, is the presence of the team's core values and leadership council.

The Wildcats' five core values - commitment and work ethic, character, confidence and belief, communication and trust, and competitiveness - define the team. The leadership council ensures each Wildcat holds true to those core values.

The structure of a leadership council on teams used to be unique, but the concept is catching on in all sports. K-State's leadership council began about five years ago in an effort for the entire squad, from players to coaches, to build better cohesion. Led by assistant coach Jeff Hulsmeyer, the coaching staff and team spent months establishing its core values and creating a path for it to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk in terms of who the team wanted to be, on and off the court.

"There was a great deal of discussion about bridging the gap between the team and the staff, and creating a culture of trust, from peer to peer, player to player, player to coach, coach to coach," said Fritz. "The leadership council was derived in an effort to create the best possible culture of trust, understanding and communication."

This year, there are five members on the leadership council: sophomores Katie Brand, Kersten Kober, and Katie Reininger, and seniors, Taylor Johnson and Chelsea Keating. While Fritz admits there is no magic number to the size of the leadership council - the Wildcats have had as few as three in years past - the group of five helps better represent this year's larger team of 20 players.

The members of the leadership council are determined based on a team evaluation. Each player receives a worksheet and assigns a value of 1-5 (five being the highest) to each person on the team - coaches and players - within the core value categories. The highest ranked Wildcats are selected for the leadership council.

The fact that the number of Wildcats in the leadership council matches the number of core values is coincidental, but each one contributes their own piece of the leadership puzzle.

"They all bring something different," said Fritz. "The way Chelsea Keating works is dramatically different than the way Katie Reininger works, but clearly, they are both received very well by their teammates."

The leadership council meets bi-weekly with the coaching staff, but the formal meetings are only a part of the job. Day to day, the leadership council serves as the team's captains, setting standards for their teammates, providing feedback, and building confidence.

"Sometimes your captains may be the ones who have been around for a long time, but they are not always the most influential," said Fritz. "[The leadership council consists of] our captains. Instead of saying, `Hey, you're going to be a captain because you have been around a long time,' we want it to mean something."

Fritz on summer camp
Coaches are hands off during the summer months as players oversee their own practices and follow plans laid out by the coaching staff. This past summer was a little different for Fritz as she really liked the commitment put forth by the team.

"Commitment sometimes mean just putting in the time," said Fritz. "[This summer] was more than that for me. It was the way they organized themselves. They worked with more purpose. They wanted a plan, wanted to execute a plan, and worked with great detail. I didn't feel like they just showed up and put in the time."

Fritz and assistant coaches Jeff Grove and Hulsmeyer rely especially on the leadership council to make sure development is being established and rapport is being built. Compared to last year when K-State had the benefit of extra practices due to its trip to Russia as part of the World University Games, this year's training was the responsibility of the athletes.

"We've had a ton of really good teams come in and put in the time and work," said Fritz. "This team also put in the time and work, but what really stood out was the purpose in which they worked. They understood that this is what we have to do to make up some ground here."

K-State returns just seven letterwinners from last year's team, its fewest since 2010 when the Wildcats had six. Coupled with 14 combined freshmen and sophomores (two are returners), K-State is a younger team than the last two years. Do not remind the Wildcats of their youth, though, as the team knew from the early going that the summer was time well spent to make up for the lack of experience.

"We [the coaches] tell them all the time we are not going to use our youth and inexperience as an excuse," said Fritz. "They felt like this, going the extra mile, was what they needed to do, and they did. They did it all by themselves."

Purple/White Scrimmage set for this Saturday
A week after starting two-a-days, the Wildcats will quickly jump into game action when they square off in the annual Purple/White Scrimmage in Ahearn Field House on Saturday, August 16 at 7 pm. Admission is free as fans can head to Ahearn after meeting the K-State football team during Fan Appreciation Day at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, which starts at 5 pm.

The intrasquad scrimmage will be the first time for most of the Wildcats that they have competed in a "competitive" setting since the spring. It will also allow the six summer arrivals to experience a small taste of playing in Ahearn before the first home match inside the historic building on September 8.

Preseason Top 25
K-State was not ranked in the AVCA Coaches Preseason Top 25, which was released on Monday, but several of its opponents were scattered on the list. Texas was the highest-ranked Big 12 team as the Longhorns checked in at No. 2, receiving 11 first-place votes and falling 28 points below No. 1 Penn State. Other K-State opponents that were ranked or received votes included Kansas (No. 22), Oklahoma (RV), Arizona (RV), Iowa State (RV), and Michigan (RV).