Sophomore starts season strong

Katie Vatterrodt didn’t start playing volleyball until the seventh grade.

Mark Heise

For sophomore outside hitter Katie Vatterrodt, volleyball was something of an acquired taste.

While some athletes seem to realize their calling at an early age, it took Vatterrodt a little longer to discover her game.

But it doesn’t matter to the Gophers if she was born with it or not, as long as she keeps producing the way she has so far this season.

After receiving limited playing time her freshman season, Vatterrodt has turned into a go-to player this year, averaging 2.8 kills per game with a .266 hit percentage while earning All-Tournament honors at the St. Louis University Tournament earlier this season.

Senior outside hitter Kelly Bowman had nothing but praise for her teammate.

“You can see that Katie has improved so much from last season,” she said. “She has a lot more confidence in her game, and has earned her spot on the court.”

Vatterrodt has certainly done that based on her numbers alone, but her success looks even more impressive considering the fact that she didn’t even start playing volleyball until seventh grade.

“I decided to try it out since I was pretty tall,” the 6-foot, 2-inch sophomore said. “It was kind of hobby for me, something to do after school.”

Illini Elite Club director Andy Erins said he saw something special in Vatterrodt right away, and was able to watch her progression into a quality athlete.

“We quickly realized that she was a great athlete, and she always worked her tail off in practice,” he said. “We saw determination in Katie, and I think that and her work ethic is what has turned her into the player she is.”

While Erins may have seen this potential early, it wasn’t until a few years later that Vatterrodt realized her passion for the sport.

“I started getting pretty good around eighth grade,” she said. “That’s when things sort of snowballed, and the focus really turned to volleyball.”

Vatterrodt turned into a premiere player at her school in Bloomington, Ill., receiving all-conference honors as a sophomore, junior and senior. She was also named team MVP her junior and senior years.

Her efforts earned her a full scholarship to Minnesota, so Vatterrodt left her home state and spent most of her freshman season learning from the bench.

“Last year was really just an adjustment year for me,” she said. “I was just trying to become acclimated to the different techniques here and I think the experience was a huge help.”

The road wasn’t easy, however, as Vatterrodt learned that volleyball wasn’t just about offense and defense.

Vatterrodt said she realized the importance of a strong mental game as well, saying that a strong mental attitude makes a big difference on the court. But she didn’t learn that at college. That was help coming from home.

“When I went home, my biology teacher really helped me get back on the right track,” Vatterrodt said. “There’s a lot of stress here between sports and classes, but she really helped me figure things out.”

Between a strong work ethic, quality coaching and a new and improved mindset, Vatterrodt has turned herself into a player her team can count on in a tough match.

Senior libero Malama Peniata said she was happy not only with Vatterrodt’s play this season, but also with the presence she brings to the court.

“She’s always smiling and having fun on the court,” she said. “You can tell that she’s never really thinking about herself, a good team player.”