For any college athlete, the ability to adapt to an ever-changing schedule and a whole new level of competition is key to success.
For sophomore Kat Rice, that meant picking up a whole new sport.
“Since I was 10, I did travel softball,” Rice said. “I was going to come here for softball initially… My softball coach was my volleyball coach in high school. I started playing volleyball my sophomore year. I fell in love with the fast-paced nature of it, and I realized that I could possibly play volleyball in college.”
The sophomore middle blocker is amid her second season with the team. Last season, she was named the Great Northeast Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week five times and was eventually named GNAC Rookie of the Year. She also earned the tenth highest attack percentage in the NCAA.
This year’s team is without some of its more experienced players.
“This year is really different because we don’t have any seniors,” Rice said. “Everyone who is not a freshman is a leader on the team. You have a whole different role, a new responsibility.”
Last year’s GNAC-finalist team was led by a strong core of seniors. Now, with eight underclassmen on a squad of 11, Rice must once again adjust to a more active role.
“As a team, it’s going to be a challenge because we’re so young,” Rice said. “Personally, I have to keep working hard and not rely on my success last season.”
So far, Rice is picking up where she left off. In six games, she has amassed 77 kills and 136 attacks, and leads the team with a .471 hitting percentage.
Following up last year’s accolades would be a challenge, but Rice looks at the current season with a levelheaded approach.
“I have to work hard,” said the marketing communications major “We all want to have a bigger, better season this year...I’m taking one step further and making myself a better player.”
Head coach Ben Read said Rice’s work ethic allows her to be successful.
“There’s not a lot that will get her down,” Read said. “She’s always positive, and she enjoys the sport, which is contagious.”
Rice said that she enjoys her spot at middle blocker because it is much more active than what she was used to from softball, where she was a pitcher and first baseman.
“Last year was my first time ever playing [middle blocker],” Rice said. “It’s on the net, the most movement. I help with blocking on both sides, which is my best ability. In practices, I switch to outside and right side, but the timing is different. Middle just comes so naturally.”
Though her position may seem natural now, Rice said that taking on a whole new sport was not always easy.
“It was definitely a learning experience,” Rice said. “Some of the motions I knew through softball. Hitting came naturally, but passing I still struggle with. It was different than what I was used to.”
Read described Rice’s recent introduction to the sport as an advantage.
“She’s one of our best offensive players,” Read said. “Because she got into volleyball later, she’s improved that much more than people who have been playing years of club volleyball. She’s got some more to go ahead and improve on, which is exciting.”
Read also said having Rice as a strong presence calls for her teammates to raise their level of play.
“She’s a middle, and we have to pass well to get her the ball There will be two, three blockers on her,” he said. “Scouters will start noticing her. We have to put the ball in different spots, tip in different spots, and move her around more.”
If Rice feels any pressure to repeat last year’s performance, she doesn’t show it. Though she and the rest of the women’s volleyball team have yet to play in a conference game, Rice spoke with a big smile about the possibility of another GNAC final.
“Since it’s a growing year, we should have really high expectations,” Rice said. “I think we should win the GNAC; everyone wants to…I think we can do it.”