Young outside hitters take court by storm

In the middle of the fourth set against Missouri Western State University, sophomore outside hitter Ellie Kaat made her personal record-breaking 20th kill of the match. She didn’t stop there — by the end of the night, Kaat racked up 24 kills, the most from any Bulldog in one match since 2013.

Truman State University’s volleyball team is winning matches with a young force of outside hitters led by Kaat. Currently she averages 3.66 kills per set, well past last year’s 1.13 kills per set and within striking range of Truman’s record book.

Kaat hasn’t always been an outside hitter, though. Head coach Ben Briney said he originally recruited her as a middle hitter, so most of her freshman year statistics are from that position. He moved her to the outside late last spring because he was afraid of wearing out the team’s other two outside hitters at the time, and he said Kaat has embraced the role ever since.

Kaat highlighted her confidence as an important contributor to her success this season.

“Coming in as a freshman, it was just kind of intimidating,” Kaat said. “I didn’t really have my bearings about me when I came in. This year I came back in, and I felt comfortable on the court again, which is something that I really missed, and I think that was just the biggest missing piece.”

Kaat said the team has progressed as well. She said everyone engages in self-care on and off the court, holds each other to a high standard, and focuses on their own side of the net.

Kaat said she has room to grow, too. She said she wants to work on her blocks to help the Bulldog defenders, as well as her serves. Kaat thinks confidence is also the key to perfecting her serve.

“All of us can put that ball over the net like it’s nothing,” Kaat said. “It’s not a physical job. It’s more of a mental thing.”

Kaat faced a new challenge, however, when she and the ’Dogs faced the University of Missouri-St. Louis three days after defeating Missouri Western. Four kills into the first set, Kaat landed on her ankle the wrong way. The injury left her in a boot and off the court for about a week, during which the team’s lone freshman, outside hitter Morgan Smith, took her time to shine.

“It was hard to see Ellie go down because she loves the game so much,” Smith said. “But I knew I needed to step up and basically keep doing what she had been doing all season.”

Smith scored at least 10 kills in each of the three matches she played while Kaat recovered, her strongest performance this season. She said she felt good about her work and enjoyed the high energy on the court, though she thinks her future playing time might vary week to week.

Smith said she and Kaat have become close teammates. Smith spent a lot of time with Kaat during the preseason, so they got to know each other well. She also said they are very similar players on the court in that they’re very strategic, always looking for the best way to score the next point.

Kaat, Smith and the rest of the Bulldogs will do just that when they compete in the 2018 Midwest Region Crossover this weekend in Indianapolis. Tomorrow they will face No. 25 Michigan Technological University at 10:30 a.m. and Saginaw Valley State University at 4:30 p.m., followed by a Saturday match against Tiffin University at noon.