‘Learning on the fly’: Mati adjusts to American volleyball, new opportunities

Freshman Tessa Mati attempts to score in a practice with the rest of her Wildcat teammates this year. Changes on the court are just a few of the things that Mati has had to adapt to since she made it to the United States. (Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group).

Freshman opposite/outside hitter Tessa Mati joins the Kansas State volleyball team this year. With a European background, Mati is trying to adjust and take advantage of the opportunities the United States offers.

Mati, an environmental engineering major, grew up in Grosseto, Italy, and started playing volleyball at 11. She became the first in her family to play the sport. At first, it was just a game, but it soon became a passion.

“I was happy to be able to attend every practice, was enjoying my time with my teammates and I realized that I didn’t want to do this for life but I wanted it in my life,” Mati said.

While Mati has been in the U.S., she noticed the culture is different than Italy. For her, one of the biggest differences is in the style of volleyball.

She said she adjusted quickly to the physicality of the game here. The American style of play requires more jumping and lifting weights, while volleyball in Italy is more precise and technical, she said.

Playing with older women last year, Mati said her practices were more intense. She said one thing remains the same: the speed of the game.

“You can play volleyball with people of your same age, but at the same time you can play in a league where there are women of every age … so I played with a 28-year-old,” Mati said.

Mati said colleges in Italy do not offer organized sports, making the opportunity to come to America to play and study something she could not turn down.

“It was my dream to come to America and combine the studies and the sport that I love,” she said.

K-State volleyball head coach Suzie Fritz said she discovered Mati through a European recruiting service. When Mati got to Manhattan, interaction among her and the coaches was limited while she quarantined.

Mati is “learning on the fly” as she has only participated in a practice for a couple of weeks.

Fritz said it is tough for international players to pick up volleyball terminology and slang in America. Fritz said sometimes Mati does not exactly know what the coaches are asking of her, but she is trying to fight through that as quickly as possible.

“She has to go from speaking and learning in her native language to coming here,” Fritz said. “Now she has to think, speak, write and play volleyball using English. From that perspective, it is incredibly difficult for a few months.”

Mati said she chose K-State because of the people. She loved the coaches from the first Zoom call.

It was not always certain, however, when she would arrive in Manhattan because of the ever-changing COVID-19 travel restrictions in Italy.

“The rules were changing every two or three days, so I found the right moment when they were open where everything was fine and I decided to come,” Mati said.

Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Kayley Hollywood said she is surprised how quickly Mati has fit in with the team. Hollywood said Mati is still trying to get the hang of American volleyball terminology.

“Tessa is going to be a big presence once she starts fitting into our system and gets to know it a little bit better,” Hollywood said.