The 2023 season for the Kansas State volleyball team has major changes in comparison to the 2022 season. With the departure of head coach Susie Fritz, championship-experienced Jason Mansfield was brought in by Athletic Director Gene Taylor to turn around the program.
“He [Mansfield] had some time to figure out what he wants in a team and I think he’s implemented it very well so far,” Oregon State transfer setter Izzi Szulczewski said. “Everyone seems bought in; bought in with him and the community.”
The team has not won over 15 games since 2016 and has a new arena to show off. A group of returning veterans and new faces give the Wildcats a different look heading into the season.
The K-State volleyball team had its new home arena revealed https://t.co/XF2fnESsSK
— Collegian – Sports (@sportscollegian) July 7, 2023
The departure of Fritz is the biggest change to K-State volleyball. Fritz coached at K-State for 22 years, helping the team reach the NCAA Tournament in 13 of those seasons. In 2003, Fritz led the Wildcats to their only Big 12 title in program history. Fritz established a culture for K-State volleyball that is important to remember.
“We’re always trying to keep old traditions like the head pats and celebrating the K-State way,” outside hitter Aliyah Carter said. “We’re also trying to find a new culture and just making sure that the new members of the team will have a say in what is going on here.”
The only two players to leave the program were outside hitter Elena Baka and opposite Haley Warner. Both were major contributors to the team in 2022. Baka led the team in kills with 314 on the season. She also collected 11 double-doubles and was second on the team with 260 digs. Warner helped defensively at the net, recording the third most blocks on the team with 0.86 blocks per set. She also contributed on offense with 162 kills.
Mansfield has brought in a much larger roster than the 2022 year. That includes Szulczewski, Wisconsin-transfer outside hitter Liz Gregorski and four freshmen. Outside hitter Shaylee Myers described the additions of all six new players as a “really big addition to our team” as the roster has grown to 17.
“They all stand out to me,” Carter said. “They all have great competitive skills. I’m excited to see who gets to play and what they could do on the court.”
The two players most likely to come in and contribute early are Szulczewski and Gregorski. As the former 2019 High School Gatorade Player of the Year in Oregon, Szulczewski starred at Oregon State earning All-Pac 12 honors. Her accomplishments also include 26 double-doubles in 2022, setting a career-high 52 assists against LSU and recording the program’s first triple-double in over five years. As a setter, she will have many responsibilities to help everyone on the court.
“[I’ve] got to be connected with everyone because each person likes their sets a little differently,” Szulczewski said. “I also think I’m a really good competitor so I bring that aggressive energy, but like, ‘What are we doing next play?’ kind of focused energy.”
Gregorski is one of the teammates Szulczewski will be assisting. Gregorski has many volleyball accomplishments outside of college, including winning the 2017 Showcase MVP. In college, Gregorski joined the program as the second National Champion with Mansfield, helping Wisconsin to win the 2021 National Championship as well as four Big 10 Championships. Her experience on a highly-touted team and in big moments could be major for K-State against some of the best programs.
K-State enter the season with many new faces but plenty of experienced Wildcats. Alongside Carter and Myers are libero Molly Ramsey, middle blocker Kadye Fernholz, defensive specialist Loren Hinkle, middle blocker Sydney Boling and defensive specialist Mackenzie Morris — the fastest Wildcat ever to reach 1,000 career digs. All have played extensive minutes for K-State. The team will begin their season with a three-day-three-match showdown in Portland, starting with Portland State at 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25.
“I think we still have a little bit of rust and just a [few] kinks to work out, but I’m glad that we’re going to Portland to work those out,” Szulczewski said. “I think it’s a really good opportunity for us.”
After that, the Wildcats return home for the ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new arena before its home opener against Omaha at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 1. Two days later, K-State will be tested while hosting No. 5 Nebraska, which could help the team in experience and the rankings.
“It’s definitely important RPI-wise [ranking percentage index],” Myers said. “I know it’s really early to start talking about but playing these really great teams in the beginning is only going to make us better and get us some points looking down the road toward a tournament.”
With matchups against No. 5 Nebraska and No. 1 Texas, K-State will have its team and schemes fully tested. The new strategy of a heavy attack offense will be a huge factor in the season.
“Jason [Mansfield] really likes our attacking, and I think that we’re gonna be a great offensive team,” Myers said. “Our offense is really fast; it’s hard to block. Attacking is one of the more fun things for me and probably for a good amount of the girls. Getting a huge kill is really uplifting and we want to just keep doing that.”
With a new style of play and a new roster still holding key veterans, the Wildcats’ 2023 season could coincide with other growing sports programs at Kansas State rising to new levels.
“The sky’s the limit for us,” Carter said. “We have a lot of people that can hit from many different places on the court, from many different angles. I’m just really excited. I think our offense will be so good this year.”