‘The chemistry is pretty solid’: Volleyball scrimmage acts as a final tune-up prior to season opener

Volleyball players Jayden Nembhard (left), Megan Vernon (middle) and Loren Hinkle (right) kneel during the national anthem prior to the Purple and White Scrimmage on Sept. 18 at Bramlage Coliseum. (Marshall Sunner | Collegian Media Group)

With one week until the start of the volleyball season, Kansas State head coach Suzie Fritz feels optimistic — largely due to the extra-long preseason the team was given due to COVID-19 after effects.

Fritz knows that her team is young. With just four upperclassmen on the roster and one that is a transfer, the Wildcats can be viewed as a young, inexperienced and rebuilding team. But Fritz doesn’t see it that way – she likes the way her roster is built.

“The chemistry is pretty solid,” Fritz said. “I’m really optimistic. I think we have some concerns with our youth and inexperience right now. . . but we have enough experience back to hold it together — and enough new blood and energy that’s shaken things up to make it interesting right now.”

The prolonged preseason has had its perks. Fritz said she feels like her liberos progress is ahead of schedule and the middle blockers have made their strides as well. But the thing that stands out most for the Wildcats’ coach is the team’s overall effort.

“To me, it’s been wonderful,” Fritz said. “It’s given us more time to prepare and just more time for the team to come together. Our libero core is as far along as we’ve ever had. We’ve got four liberos, and what they’re doing defensively and their ability to stabilize us with their ball control has been really ahead of schedule. Our middles as well have made a tremendous amount of improvement. Just the collective overall camaraderie, the chemistry’s good and the collective effort overall has been consistent.”

Fritz is pleased with how the team has grown.

“We’ve seen our young players be able to integrate themselves into a system and learn different ways to doing things – just having that time prior to having to compete, that time has been really good,” she said.

The Wildcats took the floor for the first time this season on Friday for a final tune-up scrimmage before Big 12 play starts next week and to put to the test what they had learned in those six weeks. For the players, it was all about getting back into the competitive grove.

“Just seeing how we play in a game like situation,” sophomore setter Teana Adams-Kaonohi said. “Seeing how we are going to be next week is important.”

Redshirt junior Brynn Carlson saw the scrimmage in the same light — a way to get ready for the team’s first match against Iowa State.

“I would just say that this is a good opportunity for us to play in a competitive environment,” Carlson said. “We’ve been in training mode for the last two months, so this was a good opportunity for us to really prepare for what a game situation is going to be like.”

Carlson said before the match the connections between setters and hitters were getting better every day and that confidence as a whole was improving on the offensive side of the net. That confidence showed as she led either team with 19 kills in four sets of play.

As for the others, freshman defensive specialist Mackenzie Morris led the match with 25 digs. Sophomore libero Dru Kuck added 16 digs and redshirt junior Jacque Smith added 16 digs of her own. Adams-Kaonohi led the match with 31 assists.

Even with impressive performances, Carlson is always looking ahead.

“One thing our team always does is constantly look for improvement,” Carlson said. “I can’t say there’s any one area where we feel weak right now. We feel strong on all fronts. We’re always looking to find that next level, so there’s always another level we can reach.”

K-State officially starts the 2020 season at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Bramlage Coliseum against Iowa State.