Tristan McCarty is all smiles these days — living her dream.
The defensive specialist for the 14th-ranked Kansas State volleyball team always wanted to be a Wildcat.
After all, the former Manhattan High standout has always had K-State in her backyard.
Now a junior, McCarty has seen an increased role for the Wildcats this season and she couldn’t be happier.
“I love it… it’s been a dream come true for me,” McCarty said Tuesday. “I grew up around K-State volleyball. I was in third or fourth grade when I got into the sport and I got really into it… Playing here was always in the back of mind.
“Once I focused on volleyball and got into high school it became something that could be a reality, so I worked my butt off to make sure it was something I could attain.”
McCarty, who finished her high school career as the Indians’ all-time kills leader, played all but one set her freshman year at K-State. But she didn’t really become a difference-maker until late last season, especially in the NCAA tournament.
The 5-foot-8 McCarty totaled 12 digs in the win over Wichita State in the first round and 15 digs and three service aces in the upset win over No. 2 Nebraska in the second round on the Cornhuskers’ home floor.
So far this season, McCarty has 138 digs and 12 service aces — both of which rank third on the team.
“Each year you learn more, you see more and you get to experience more,” McCarty said. “It’s been great having pretty much the same team the last three years here, and we are just building every single day in the gym. I feel like it gets better and better everyday.”
K-State head coach Suzie Fritz said McCarty’s volleyball IQ is a valuable strength.
“The thing that separates Tristan from a lot of the girls I coach is mindfulness,” Fritz said. “She works in a very productive way, in that she is extremely task-oriented, so she comes in with certain objectives everyday and is very much a perfectionist — to the point where sometimes that can be debilitating for her. But the way she works, her mindfulness, the way she focuses on technique, I think separates her in some ways.
“She’s a good athlete. She’s not the biggest, strongest or fastest, but it’s about the way she works. She’s very simple. She makes easy plays look easy and she makes difficult plays look easy sometimes. She has tremendous work ethic and tremendous mindfulness. She sees things at a very high level, and that’s been a constant improvement for her.”
While some jump at the chance to go far away for college, McCarty said the opportunity for her family to share in her K-State volleyball experience was important in her decision to stay at home.
“(K-State) was my main focus,” McCarty said. “I had a few other offers here and there, but in the end, I knew that once I got this opportunity, this is where I wanted to be at. If I could have the people I love most closest to me while going through this, I couldn’t ask for anything more.
“A lot of girls want to get out and experience a different city, but I am such a family person, and to have the people I love most to be able to come watch me and experience with me is the biggest thing. The fact it is in my hometown and that it is one of the top programs in the nation made it an easy decision.”
It also helped that McCarty was a super-fan, first.
“I think it was the Big 12 championship team from 2003 — I had their media guide memorized from front to back,” she said. “I knew all the girls’ favorite things off the court, I knew what book they loved to read and who their favorite pro athlete was. That was something I could look up to and made me want to be one of those girls someday.
“And there have been some other Manhattan girls that have made it through the program in the past, and I looked up to them when I was younger, and saw them get through high school and then to K-State. I knew that’s what I wanted to do, as well.”
K-State (16-2, 3-2 Big 12) returns to the court Saturday when the Wildcats travel to Fort Worth, Texas to play TCU at 1 p.m.