As the 17th-ranked Kansas State volleyball team heads into its match against TCU Saturday at 3 p.m. in Ahearn Field House, the Wildcats do so with a presence on the floor that head coach Suzie Fritz says keeps the team together.
Kathleen Ludwig, who redshirted her freshman season, has been through thick and thin playing the opposite position for K-State (20-5, 7-5 Big 12). Her five years of experience with the team has matured into a wisdom about the game that has been crucial to the Wildcats’ success.
“I call her the glue,” Fritz said following Thursday’s practice. “From the very beginning, as we’ve accepted new players into our program, I’ve always felt that she’s been the one who has taken the lead to bring them along and get them up to speed… to make them feel valued.
“I think most of the young players would echo that. In lots of situations seniors can treat the younger players – especially the freshmen – differently. Kathleen is very good at treating everyone the same.”
Ludwig — an elementary education major — is fourth on the team in kills with 160 and third in kills per set. She’s totaled 17 service aces so far and has 109 digs and has 53 blocks.
“Being a fifth-year senior, its almost surreal saying I’m in my senior year,” Ludwig said. “I set a goal for myself in August to just enjoy every minute of it and to put everything I have into this season. I think all of the team has really embraced that and we’ve worked really hard and we’ve found success.”
Ludwig said she’s come a long way since the time she first walked into Ahearn in 2008.
“Kansas State volleyball has a very specific system and a very specific way that they do things,” said Ludwig, who has been one of the team’s co-captains the past two years. “I think over the last five years those concepts have become so clear to me and they make so much sense to me. So, I feel like I’ve been able to grow as a volleyball player in my knowledge and mentality. Before I was kind of this energetic player that would just smack it around and that was good.
“But being here, being in college and having that team and coaching staff to instill that mental aspect of the game has been huge for me.”
Ludwig was recruited to K-State out of Bishop Miege High School, where she was a highly-decorated volleyball player and a three-year letter winner in track and field. Her volleyball team won the 5A state championship her freshman year. As a senior, Ludwig was named to the state all-tournament team in volleyball. She was both the Hy-Vee Player of the Year and Kansas Gatorade Player of the year in volleyball as well.
Fritz said Ludwig was recruited to K-State for just as much as who she is as a person, as she was a volleyball player.
“From a recruiting perspective, she came to camp really early on and committed to us at the end of her sophomore year… So she knew she was coming here for a long time and we are thankful for that,” Fritz said. “At that point in time, we honestly recruited her because we liked her so much, and we we were hoping she’d become a good volleyball player, too.
“She was a good (high school) player, but at that time, she was just one of those kids you wanted to be around and have an opportunity to coach.”
Ludwig redshirted her freshman year because her position was in good hands already on the team with the presence of Nataly Korobkova, who was an All-American for K-State in 2007 and 2008.
Five years later, Fritz said Ludwig is just as likeable as she was when the Wildcats first took an interest.
“It’s hard to put in the words… it’s immeasurable, in so many ways, (to talk about Ludwig’s contributions to this program),” Fritz said. “As a player, as a citizen, as a student, she’s been an exceptional example of why I like to come to work everyday, because I get to be around people like her.
“She’s one of the most likable people I’ve ever had an opportunity to coach and be around.”
For Ludwig, the respect and admiration for Fritz is mutual.
“What isn’t it about her that makes her so special?” Ludwig said. “She’s one of a kind. Her knowledge and passion for the game is special for any coach — not just a volleyball coach. She’s the top of the top. She works and works and works. She preaches that we’re not going to just back down to other teams… We’re not going to get tired and give up. We’re going to do everything we can to be the best we can, and if that’s good enough, than great. If not, we did our best, and that’s her mentality for everything.
“I really can’t say enough about how much I respect her and the things that she does, and the lives she touches along the way.”
Ludwig and the rest of the Wildcats will hope to rebound Saturday after falling to Kansas on Wednesday night in four sets.
The Horned Frogs (14-10, 3-8) were on an eight-match losing streak before getting back in the win column with a 3-0 sweep at Texas Tech 10 days ago.