By Corbin McGuire
For 10 days in July, K-State freshman Gloria Mutiri was back where her volleyball career began — or, more accurately, about 10 minutes away from it.
This flashback goes back four years, when she was a high school freshman in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. As she likes to tell it, her career almost ended before it really even started.
“Freshman year was so bad. My coach always tells me that I barely made (it past) the tryout and (the coaches) were, like, ‘Well, she’s tall so maybe she can just block,'” she said. “It was so rough.”
While reliving the memory, Mutiri stops briefly to laugh at it. Considering a few weeks ago she was part of the USA High Performance Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it’s not hard to find the humor.
Four years ago, she was learning the game from scratch. Less than four weeks ago, she was competing with some of the country’s best players entering their first year of college and most of whom are well beyond their fourth year in the sport. Her team won gold, by the way.
“I had no idea what I was doing all of the time,” Mutiri, a Second Team Under Armour All-America selection and the Tulsa World’sVolleyball Player of the Year in high school, reflected of her start in volleyball. “People would just point for me, ‘Go here, go here,’ and I’d be, like, ‘OK,’ just running around headless. That is a big difference from this year.”
This year, the 6-foot-2 opposite went with a plan of attack. She knew exactly what she wanted to work on before her first season as a Wildcat.
Mutiri said graduating high school early to start her K-State career in the spring semester “exposed everything” she needed to improve on before the 2018 season arrived. The main items on the list: passing and defense.
With the abundance of talent and highly regarded coaches like Jenny Hazelwood there, Mutiri said the 10-day USA Volleyball experience made a “big difference” in those two areas.
“(My confidence in those areas) was supremely low before I left and now I feel like I’m at the point where I’m confident enough to just be in serve-receive or to pass and play some defense,” she said. “That’s a huge step from the beginning of the summer.”
In hindsight, Mutiri said coming to K-State early was “one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.” She cited multiple reasons for this.
“I got to play with really good people,” she said of her teammates. “The spring is also a great time to get individual time with the coaches and they can really work on stuff with you, whereas during the season things can go really fast and you don’t have as much time to work on small stuff like footwork or passing angles and body positioning. It was such a good decision to come early.”
She also was able to start developing chemistry with her teammates, including redshirt junior setter Sarah Dixon. Not to mention the adjustment Mutiri’s body has already gone through in regard to getting used to a Division I strength and conditioning regimen.
“Now, it’s just about getting stronger,” Mutiri said. “I’m right on track to start the season with being really close to the girls and knowing the systems and how Suzie (Fritz), Trent (Sorensen) and Jeff (Grove) like to do things. That’s been really important. I think I would always feel a step behind, maybe, if I came in the summer.”
With fall practice officially underway this week, every drill and swing are a step closer to her first game. Simply putting on a jersey for a photoshoot on report day on Tuesday gave Mutiri a boost of energy.
“I’m so excited about everything,” Mutiri said, including K-State’s Purple/White scrimmage in Ahearn Field House on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. “That’s going to be fun. We all get to get into our jerseys and compete. I’m excited for that.”
K-State will travel to Omaha, Nebraska, on Friday, August 17, for its final exhibition. The Wildcats’ season will begin on August 24-26 at the Texaco Rainbow Wahine Invitational in Hawaii, where they will face UCLA, Hawaii and Gonzaga.
Entering her first college campaign, Mutiri has not set goals of playing time, kills or conference honors. She has her sights set on honing in on a process for improvement. The rest, she said, will take care of itself.
“I always want to be getting better and I want to improve my rate of learning quickly so that I can be a completely different player from the beginning of this season to the end, and hopefully get better with time because, as you go on, you want to make the (NCAA) Tournament, postseason play,” she said. “Hopefully by then I can be a lot better teammate, a lot better player.”
Source: Kansas State Sports