By Corbin McGuire
Foreign tours are beneficial for any team. A young team, however, can get more out of them.
This is what K-State volleyball head coach Suzie Fritz relished about her team’s recent nine-day tour (May 29-June 6) in Brazil. She saw her team, with 13 underclassmen and three upperclassmen, noticeably grow each day.
“One of the joys of coaching a young team is you do see these bigger jumps, in terms of technical things and progress. You see these big jumps in what they do now. One of the difficult things with young teams, most of the times, is that ebbs and flows. The ability to do things consistently well will continue to be an issue for us,” Fritz said. “As far as just being good, this team is as good as any team we’ve had. Our challenge will be being able to hold it together over long stretches of times. They know that. They have to mature in that way, and I think that’s one of their goals and objectives for the summer is to just to develop greater consistency, but we’re seeing them improve dramatically by the day.”
K-State got five matches in during the trip. These experiences were preceded by three days of training sessions with the Brazilian U20 National Team in Rio de Janeiro, where a nine-day stretch of adapting began on and off the court.
The Wildcats played with a different ball and against a completely foreign style of volleyball. Both challenged them.
“We got an incredible amount of volleyball right off the bat, and pretty high-level volleyball that we had to jump into,” Fritz said. “One of the things we struggled with the most was serve-receive. We were adjusting a little bit to a slightly different ball and really consistent pace, and just another level of pace, and it added a level of difficulty for us. So, we struggled in that way, but what I thought was maybe the best thing we got out of it is we just got a little bit better every time we played in that area, offensively, specifically in the area of serve-receive.”
Sophomore Gloria Mutiri, K-State’s top returning kills producer, echoed her coach’s assessment.
Last season’s AVCA Midwest Freshman of the Year said the Brazilian teams “prioritized” serving as a “high risk, high reward” weapon, which made it difficult to get into an offensive rhythm early in the trip. With more time together, Mutiri said the youthful Wildcats figured out how to play at a high level together.
“I think (our chemistry) got a lot stronger, especially with some of the younger players,” she said. “Communication was a lot better, and I think our rhythm as a team is more cohesive.”
Redshirt freshman Abigail Archibong agreed.
“I think in the beginning it was a little shaky but as we went on, the younger girls, even myself, we realized, ‘This is what you have to do in order for it to be a rhythm and kind of like a dance that you’re playing for it to all work together,'” she said. “We started doing that more and it got better. It was fun.”
Archibong said it really started getting fun during a match when a switch seemed to flip for the Wildcats. During this match, she said the team stopped scrambling as individuals and instead moved as one. The result: Blocks on blocks.
“In the beginning, the offenses were really fast, so everyone is shooting into the pin and it was hard to get adjusted to,” she said, “but then once it clicked, it clicked, and it felt so good. It was so much fun.”
As were the experiences the Wildcats got to enjoy off the court.
Among the non-volleyball highlights were a helicopter ride above Sao Paulo, the seventh-largest city in the world; trips up to Christ the Redeemer, considered one of the “new seven wonders of the world,” and Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro; and, of course, multiple trips to the beach.
Every moment together, Fritz said, was beneficial.
“We saw an unbelievable amount of growth in our young team from start to finish, sincerely,” she said. “Just to be able to spend time with them, watch them grow and watch them experience different things in Brazil was a pretty special experience.”
Source: Kansas State Sports