Not the fitting description
Published: Monday, September 17, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 17, 2012 13:09
On paper, the stats show freshman Kelley Wollak is racking up the kills and proving to be one of UNO’s best offensive weapons. In her first 12 games of college volleyball, Wollak is second on the team with 101 total kills and averages almost three per set.
On paper, that kind of immediate production might make you think Head Coach Rose Shires recruited a highly sought after player with six feet plus to attack on the outside. But on paper, and in reality, Wollak’s 5-foot-9-inch frame doesn’t make her the prototypical Division-I outside hitter.
“We don’t have a prototypical team, do we,” Shires said.
Depending on a freshman for points can be rather tricky. But through the Mavs first 12 games, Wollak has been the team leader in kills six times.
In her first-ever college match, Wollak led UNO with 11 kills in a 3-1 victory over Norfolk State. So far, Wollak has rewarded Shires’ trust, and is establishing herself as the other option opposite of senior outside hitter Natalie Ebke.
“Honestly, people when they saw her size in high school, coaches thought ‘I like her but she’s so small,’” Shires said. “I think sometimes you have to take some risks on some kids, regardless of their size, on what they can bring to your team”
In Wollak’s case, Shires says she’s one of three or four players scoring this year, that the team didn’t have last year. A season ago Ebke was the only option.
When UNO swept Syracuse at home on Sept. 4, Wollak led the way with 17 kills. It’s the highest number of kills in a single match for any Mav this year.
“I did not expect it,” Wollak said about being relied on to produce offensively. “I was more about just coming in and playing. Just being on the court and getting that opportunity is really what I was hoping for. It was a very pleasant surprise that I’ve been playing this much and getting in and making a contribution.”
However, it shouldn’t be a surprise. Wollak has been playing every type of sport and contributing since grade school.
A native of Bloomington, Minn., Wollak spent her youth in lacrosse, volleyball, speech team, figure skating, and maybe stereotypically for an athlete from Minnesota, hockey.
“When I was a junior, my high school didn’t have enough girls to field a hockey team,” Wollak said. “I was a figure skater for eight years so it was ‘hey Kelley, wanna play? So my junior year I decided to play and it was just kind of a learning experience. Then my senior year they didn’t have enough goalies.”
Instead of hitting over the net, as her current duties require, Wollak found herself in the net. She also had to learn how to protect the bottom and top of the net by dropping to the ice and quickly recovering back onto her skates.
Perhaps that constant up and down motion could help explain how a 5-foot-9-inch player developed the jumping ability to attack above the net.
“Hopefully it helped a little bit of the jumping. I trained for three years on just my approach and just my jumping,” Wollak said about her preparation in volleyball. “It’s not the most natural thing, it’s learned.”
Her love for volleyball, on the other hand, was natural. Despite all the sports she participated in, Wollak said her first love was always volleyball.
And lucky for UNO, she also fell in love with Omaha. Since she was in eighth grade, Wollak made playing college volleyball a personal goal.
She felt like the best place to realize that goal was a place where volleyball was a big deal. In her mind that was always somewhere in Nebraska.
“Coming to Omaha and it being such a happy place…I don’t know how to explain it, it was just very happy and I felt so comfortable here,” Wollak said. Omaha and UNO just felt like a family and close knit and the right place for me.”
Her adjustment to college sports and college life, while different, wasn’t as much of a surprise to Wollak as most freshmen athletes. In high school she figure skated every morning at 7 a.m. and then for another hour or so after school.
Add to that playing volleyball and qualifying for nationals on the speech team and time management was something Wollak had under control a long time ago. Her new goal, like the team’s 2012 motto, is to ‘prove it.’
The Mavs are trying to show that they belong in their new conference and belong as a Division I team. Wollak is proving that it doesn’t take height to be a successful outside hitter.
“In my mind I am 6-foot-4, that’s how I think,” Wollak said. She also said being shorter than your average outside is an advantage.
It makes her jump harder to time for a block, and she can see a different angle at the hands trying to make that block. Wollak says it makes her unique because she’s not like most outside hitters teams will see.
“It’s honestly my goal to prove to everyone that you don’t need to be the tallest girl in the gym, you don’t need to hit the hardest to be a Division I outside,” Wollak said. “You can be 5-8, 5-9, you can work your butt off and still get kills. It’s not all about looks.”