Wildcats ready for Russia, World University Games

By The Mercury

After more than a month of work in the gym, the time has come for the Kansas State volleyball team to represent the United States at the World University Games.

The Wildcats conducted their final practice at Ahearn Field House on Wednesday and left Thursday morning for Kazan, Russia to compete for Team USA at the World University Games.

“We’re anxious,” senior Tristan McCarty said. “We’re very excited and nervous, so I think the combination of that is anxious. It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been waiting for a long time… For us to be in the gym for over a month now and be practicing every day, lifting every morning, it’s been a lot of work, but we’re excited.”

K-State announced in April that the volleyball team had accepted an invitation to play as the women’s indoor volleyball team at the World University Games, and the team began official practices in June.

In addition to regular practices and lifting weights, the Wildcats also participated in a series of lessons on Russian culture with Dr. David Stone from the K-State History Department, as well as the athletes doing their own research and presentations to their teammates.

The team begins pool play Monday when it takes on Poland. Also in Team USA’s pool is Czech Republic and Russia.

For all the Wildcats, the opportunity to wear the USA uniform is one they’ve been looking forward to and very appreciative of this summer. Bringing that message home was a guest on Wednesday, as Col. Mike Morgan from the volleyball team’s Fort Riley partner unit spoke to the team before practice.

“Col. Morgan is a big influence for us,” K-State volleyball coach Suzie Fritz said. “He is the former Colonel for the Combat Aviation Brigade at Fort Riley, and they’ve become dear friends to us.

“We have such an appreciation for what they do in regards to representing our country, serving our country, risking their lives to fight for ours, and he has come in a couple times and expressed how important the value, the honor of wearing Red, White and Blue and actually going and representing your country is.”

The team will play six matches in seven days once pool play begins Monday and face some of the best players in the world.

“I like the opportunity, and I think there are a lot of things we can take out of it,” Fritz said. “We get to play against some of the best players in the world, literally, these will be Olympians. If they’re not already, they will be Olympians… I think we have a tremendous opportunity, and I’m more interested in how we respond to that opportunity.”

Another opportunity has presented itself to one Wildcat in particular for this trip, as senior Dakota Kaufman will be able to see where her family came from.

Kaufman’s great-great grandfather emigrated from Kazan to the United States, and she may be able to visit the grave of her great-great grandfather on the other side of her family.

“It’s extra special,” she said. “I hope I’m able to kind of see the culture and stuff like that, and we’ve been kind of joking that there might be someone on the other side of the net that’s my cousin that I have no idea about.

“I’m the first one to go back over to Russia since they left, so it’s going to be a great honor to go back over there.”

The team left for Russia Thursday for a 22-hour travel day, arriving in time to be with its fellow Team USA members at the Games for today’s opening ceremonies.

There will be more than 40 hours of Games coverage on ESPNU, as well as an additional 250 hours shown live online on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app for smartphones and tablets, Xbox Live and AppleTV.

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