When Kansas State senior Tristan McCarty looks into the Ahearn Field House crowd during Wildcat volleyball matches it isn’t hard for her to see herself in the faces of the little girls there watching, and perhaps dreaming of one day being in her shoes.
(Kansas State senior libero Tristan McCarty digs a ball out against Texas on Oct. 26 at Ahearn Field House).
McCarty used to be that kid, munching on popcorn and dreaming big dreams, and it’s those faces that help her remember where she’s come from, and appreciate where she’s at today.
“It’s absolutely crazy,” McCarty said. “It makes you realize why you started playing in the first place. Maybe some days you don’t fully enjoy every moment possible, but at some point every day we enjoy what we do, because that little girl inside of you still loves it.”
McCarty will join her five senior teammates for their final regular season home match on Saturday night at 7 when the Wildcats host No. 25 Iowa State.
Growing up in Manhattan, and watching K-State head coach Suzie Fritz’s teams, McCarty would soon see her volleyball dreams start to become more tangible. She blossomed into a star outside hitter at Manhattan High, earning Class 6A all-state honors as a senior and finishing her high school career as the Indians’ all-time kills leader.
When it came time to choose a school, McCarty went with her heart. She chose to stay home and close to her family to play for the Wildcats. That decision itself embodies the whatever-it-takes attitude that has helped her develop into the player that she’s become today.
“Tristan was a walk-on originally,” Fritz said. “It was one of those situations where she was good, but played outside hitter in high school, but she didn’t have the traits we were looking for to play that position at this level.”
So McCarty did what she had to do and committed herself to honing a new craft, working diligently to become the best backline player that she could.
“We liked the way she ball handled, so we thought, ‘let’s give her a chance,’” Fritz said. “We’re so thankful that we did, because she’s one of those kids that has always done more than we’ve ever asked her to do. She’s always gone above and beyond.”
She played in all but one set as a freshman, and then cemented herself in the lineup as a sophomore with highlights like a 15-dig performance in an upset of No. 2 Nebraska in the second round of the 2011 NCAA tournament. As an upperclassman, the libero has thrived in a leadership role to compliment her consistent backline play.
“My teammates would say I talk a lot — I could talk for days,” McCarty laughed when asked about her leadership style. “Especially in the back row, it’s important to have someone who is vocal at all times and in control of things. You can see your entire team, as well as the other team. We should have the best eyes back there and should be able to say what you see.”
Fritz pointed to McCarty’s leadership as a testament to her character.
“It’s because of her relationships and how hard she works at them, and because of the fact that she shows so much genuine care and concern for her teammates, she’s also that person that can hold her teammates accountable,” Fritz said.
Fellow senior and outside hitter Courtney Traxson, attested to the vocal style of her “chatterbox” teammate, but also praised the grace with which she’s embraced her role as hometown hero.
“It feels like she knows, honestly, everybody in this town,” Traxson said. “I can’t go anywhere with her without her saying hi to someone or running into someone she knows.
“She has a huge crowd here every time. She has lots of fans. Tons and tons of little girls come up to her, because they know her from a Manhattan point-of-view, and I think she really loves that, and it really helps her.”
McCarty said her favorite time to interact with the young fans is at K-State volleyball camps.
“We get kids from all over the area, but a big chunk of them are from Manhattan,” she said. “So they will start questions with like, ‘I’m from here…’ and it’s great to be able to connect with them at that level. Kids love it when they know where you’re from or maybe you went to the same school growing up.”
But as her career at K-State nears its conclusion, the ride, as do most things that a person enjoys so much, seems to have happened in a flash.
“It’s been exciting, just being able to play in Ahearn for four years now,” McCarty said. “It’s flown by. The changes that have occurred in this building, you know when I was little, we’d come to watch matches, what the players looked like. It’s just amazing to see all of those changes and now I’m one of those players that maybe a little girl is looking at and thinking the same things as I did.”