Kansas State junior outside hitter Lilla Porubek has two cities she calls home that couldn’t be more different from each other.
Her hometown of Budapest, Hungary, has a population of more than 1.7 million people and is the country’s capital.
Its history goes back to the ninth century and has been the major hub of central European activity for hundreds of years. It has also been dubbed one of Europe’s most beautiful cities with it’s Renaissance-era architecture — with its centuries old towering synagogues, churches and castles.
Manhattan, obviously, is a bit different.
“I have to be honest, my first year was hard,” said Porubek, who came to K-State as a freshman. “I’m really close to my mom and it was really hard to say bye to her. I knew this was a really great environment, but I didn’t feel as great then as I do now.”
Still, Porubek has grown to call the Little Apple her home away from home.
“In the last three years, I’ve met a lot of great new people and I know that they are here for me,” Porubek said earlier this week. “I left my family back home, but I’ve found a new one here, and that’s really great. I just feel great here. This is like my second home right now.”
Porubek was second on the team in kills a year ago and is currently second in kills this season with 153 entering Saturday night’s match.
The way she came to Manhattan from Budepest is an interesting story.
Porubek’s mom, Virag Nyari, played for the Hungarian National Team and professionally in both indoor and sand volleyball. Nyari’s beach partner was former Wildcat volleyball player Vali Hejjas, and thus, the connection was made.
Hejjas graduated from K-State in 2006 and left third all-time in school history with a kills-per-game average of 3.72. She was an All-American in 2004 and become only the fourth Wildcat to post 30 kills in a single match.
“(Lilla) is our third Hungarian, and that’s part of the evolution of it,” K-State head coach Suzie Fritz said. “We went over on a foreign tour and went to Hungary just prior to when Vali came to play for us. It was the first time we met Lilla and she was probably 10 at the time. We were making jokes that she would be our next Hungarian.
“Who knew that would actually take place, but there is a little bit of a relationship there.”
Fritz said those ties were important for Porubek when it came time to make a decision after high school.
“She had an interest in playing and studying in the United States, and a part of the reason she came here was because Vali had a good experience and trusted us to take good care of her,” she said.
As the 6-foot-1 Porubek mentioned before, it was a stressful first couple years for her in Manhattan, and Fritz said the struggle to adjust was understandable.
“Her family is important to her, and it is hard — it’s hard for any of our players who come from a long ways away,” Fritz said. “But for sure, when you come to school and you know it may be a year before you can return home… that’s pretty significant.
“But it would be expected, that when you come and you’re that far away that the first year is going to be pretty difficult to adjust and to make new friends. But, she’s been able to do that and she’s worked really hard at integrating herself into the team.”
The technological advances in recent years have helped that process.
“Skype and K-State HDTV and all of those type things help,” Fritz said, “because her mom and dad get to see her play and they can talk face-to-face.”
Porubek has come into her own in the past two seasons and has grown into her role as a constant starter and leader for the Wildcats.
“I feel great,” she said. “I think the team has a lot of confidence in me. But for someone to be great you need people who are there for you and who are helping you out. I think that’s working really well for our team.
“(Caitlyn Donahue) has been setting me great balls and I know the team is there and is covering me, so I am more confident to take risks, which I think is really important for an outside hitter.”
Fritz said that along with the geographical adjustment, Porubek also had to adjust to more of the American style of volleyball.
“Europeans play differently… it’s a different culture of volleyball that they play,” Fritz said. “She’ll tell you that if you ask a European how they play together that they will yell at each other… they fight on the court quite a bit. Americans are a little more inclined to get together and celebrate and be a little lighter and a little looser.
“So, it was kind of a cultural change for her. But she quickly adapted in her sophomore season and had a breakout season last year.”
The increased comfort with her surroundings and with her team has resulted in a more confident, more aggressive player, says Fritz.
“Part of it is that you have to be comfortable taking risks,” she said. “You can’t be afraid — especially at her position, that left-side hitter position. Essentially, games are won and lost out there and they have to take some really difficult swings — all the bad passes, all the bad sets typically go that direction. You have to be a really good out-of-system hitter. You don’t get the pretty ones.
“I think she’s starting to see things at a much higher level than she did initially, and she works hard at it.”
Porubek, who has family in New York and California, is planning on going back to Budapest for a month for the holidays and also plans on spending three weeks there in the summer.
Fortunately, her mother has been able to visit Manhattan the past three weeks. She was also able to visit Manhattan last year, as well.
“I’m really happy about that,” Porubek said. “She loves (Kansas) and really likes it.”
There has been one change Porubek’s mom had to make while in town, though, and it’s safe to say her daughter didn’t mind.
“She just told me she’s going to cook, because the food is different here,” Porubek said with laughter. “So, I’m ready to have some great Hungarian goulash!”