Feb. 6, 2014
Graduating high school a semester early is never easy. From leaving high school friends and life behind to jumping into the middle of a bustling college school year, some find the challenge too daunting.
For Kylee Zumach, the third member of the 2014 recruiting class for K-State Volleyball that signed last November, the transition to college has arrived sooner than most, but she has also taken it on with more enthusiasm than her peers.
Zumach, a 6’4” outside hitter, chose to enroll at Kansas State this spring to get ahead in her college experience, on and off the court.
“I'm so happy with my decision to come to K-State early,” said Zumach after an open gym practice in early February. “Some people were skeptical [about me leaving high school early]. All my new teammates are so helpful. I am getting better every day; I can feel it.”
Although a college freshman’s first semester – either for a student or student-athlete – is filled with what seems like endless work, Zumach’s workload has been heavy for the last two years. In addition to playing volleyball at Buffalo High School in Buffalo, Minnesota – where she was named all-conference four times, all-state twice, and one of Volleyball Magazine’s “30 Underclassmen to Watch” after her junior season – she enrolled in three online classes to help her graduate from high school early.
Factor in an hour and thirty minute drive to her Northern Lights club practice three times a week in addition to weekend matches and tournaments, Zumach studied the art of being busy early on. While she’s not sure specifically how many hours of schoolwork she was doing in a typical week – “I don’t know, but it was a lot of extra work” – she came out convinced she made the right decision as time wore on.
Zumach has a unique background in her volleyball development. Her high school coach for three years was always nearby. It was her mom, Lauri.
“She has something you can’t teach, a fire to win and compete,” said mom/coach Lauri. “She has worked incredibly hard to be a solid all-around player; defense gets her fired up just as much as the big kill. She holds our school records in kills, digs, and aces and was our best passer.”
Zumach’s parents are volleyball players themselves, playing sand volleyball together for a number of years. While her dad joined her for official visits to college campuses, both parents played an important role in her decision to jump into college early.
“As a parent, I know how hard Kylee has worked for this opportunity her whole life,” said Lauri. “Of course I wondered if we were doing the right thing letting her go early, but after seeing her on campus and seeing the environment and how excited she was to be a part of K State Volleyball, I came to realize this was the right thing for her.
“Volleyball has been her life for so long – this was just the next step for her and she was ready to take it.”
Zumach’s recruitment process actually had two installments. She originally committed to Wisconsin by her junior year of high school, but after a coaching change with the Badgers, Zumach reopened her recruitment.
“I was looking around, and I always loved [head coach] Suzie [Fritz] and the Jeffs (associate head coach, Jeff Grove, and assistant coach, Jeff Hulsmeyer),” said Zumach. “I came down [to Manhattan] for one visit with my dad and didn't look anywhere else. I loved it the first time I was here."
For Fritz and the Wildcats, Zumach provides an outside hitter to help fill the void of four departing seniors. Offseason practices are limited to two hours per week right now, therefore coaches are not able to fully see what Zumach and the Wildcats are capable of yet. Zumach has certainly impressed her teammates, though.
“For example, at weights the other day, I bet I had three of them come into my office and tell me about her,” said Fritz. “She kicked everybody's tail pulling sleds, which is not easy to do.
“Her work ethic is off the charts. She learns fast and is very eager to learn. We are pretty optimistic about what she is capable of doing moving forward.”
Zumach has found early friends among her roommates, transfers Sheridan Zarda and Brooke Sassin, along with teammates and fellow Jardine Apartment residents, Katie Reininger, Mattie Batchelder, Brookelyn Langhaim and Kersten Kober. Senior-to-be Chelsea Keating has provided on-court advice, which is beneficial as both play the same position. As much as her teammates have helped her transition, Zumach’s new teammates are impressed by the freshman’s abilities as well.
“The girls have talked a lot about her blocking abilities, too,” added Fritz. “She is hard to get around. Gina Madonia also told me Kylee hit an overpass as hard as anybody she has seen in her time at K-State. Kylee is doing some things that are getting people's attention.”
Zumach is learning at a fast pace, on the court and in the classroom. In three weeks of classes, she has already learned there are “a lot more papers” as well as how fast collegiate volleyball is relative to high school.
“At the first practice, I was thinking, 'What have I got myself into?'” said Zumach. “Once I got used to it, I can feel myself progressing more every day.”
Time is on Zumach’s side to improve. It’s tough to imagine a two-time conference MVP from the volleyball hotbed of Minnesota feels overwhelmed by the game she loves, but that is why Zumach jumped into college early. Her teammates and coaches are certainly happy she is a Wildcat sooner rather than later, too.
“If you have the opportunity and have somebody who has the willingness to [join the program in the spring], spending three months training with the coaches and six months training with the team prior to the season beginning, you cannot make up that time,” said Fritz. “It will give Kylee a tremendous advantage to contribute really early and have opportunities to play.”
Zumach joins Kali Eaken and Sami Flattum - Zumach's teammate with Northern Lights - as K-State Volleyball's 2014 signing class. Walk-ons and transfers will continue to be announced leading up to the start of the 2014 season.