By Noah Allison–
This past fall, the volleyball team enjoyed the sort of success most collegiate programs strive for. They had a 30-4 record; they were Big East regular season champions and Big East tournament champions. Their offensive firepower came from one of the most successful senior classes the program has ever had; the middle blocker Gwen Rucker and three outside hitters Lola Arslanbekova, Kaitlynn James and Tanya Lukyanenko combined for 1,153 of the teams 1,730 kills.
The seniors’ jobs were made easier by the addition of hometown talent, freshman setter Katie George. As a starting setter, George led the team with 721 assists and a .462 setting percentage. The dependability and leadership that she was able to bring to her position as a freshman just goes to show that when you are looking to find a player that can lead a program, there truly is no place like home.
“I have lived here in Louisville all my life, born and raised. I started playing volleyball when I was in the fourth grade at Holy Spirit grade school and I eventually went on to Assumption High School,” George Said.
George grew up as an athlete out of necessity; as a little girl she did what she could to keep up with her two older brothers. The constant torment of sibling tough love and the constant drive of wanting to be able to play the same sports as the boys made young Katie quite the competitor. Starting off in t-ball at the age of three, she developed a knack for softball early. She very well could have perused a career out of softball but realized that when it came to volleyball, she had a passion.
“I started playing volleyball in the fourth grade. My best friend at the time needed an extra player for our school team so she asked me to play. I started playing and fell in love with the game. When I was in the fifth grade I started playing AAU club ball and then I started playing for KIVA, or Kentucky Indiana Volleyball Academy, here in town. From there, volleyball became year round for me so it was then that I decided that that’s what I wanted to do,” George said. “I think as a young girl I just thought it was fun to hang out with my friends, but the older I’ve gotten the more I’ve learned about the game. Volleyball is so complex and a lot of people really don’t understand that there is so much strategy and skill work that has to go into it and that, overtime, is what I’ve really loved about the game.”
George has been under Head Coach Anne Kordes’s wing for a while now; George was originally committed to Kordes when she was a coach at the University of St. Louis, but switched when she heard she was taking the U of L job. The two have a lot in common: they are both blonde, incredibly passionate about the game of volleyball, both played and went to school at Assumption High School, and both played for Assumption’s legendary volleyball coach, Anne Kordes’ father, Ron Kordes.
“Having Ron as my high school coach had an impact on Anne being my college coach because I got to meet her at an early age. She would come to camps when I was at KIVA so I met her when I was 14 years old. From there I just got to know her over the years. But I picked Anne solely for Anne. She’s so passionate about the game; she’s so much fun. She can relate to you as a person and not just as a volleyball player. She really cares about you as an individual and not just a player, and I think that that’s really important,” George said.
There is no doubt that Assumption High School and Ron Kordes played a major factor in the upbringing of George’s volleyball career. Getting the training of one of the best volleyball coaches in the country creates high standards for one’s self and when you’ve been learning from the best it helps to stay in such a similar athletic environment.
“They have so many similarities but they are different. Coming from Assumption, what is really important is there are college programs that aren’t as intense as Assumption is. I wanted to make sure that if I was in an intense gym in my high school career then I wanted to be in an even more intense gym during my college career,” George said. “But Ron is a big teddy bear, people just think he is so intimidating but he really is just a big teddy bear once you get to know him. He is a really tough critic though, that I can say after playing for him. I think that is why I’ve grown into such a great leader though; I can handle being yelled at and I can handle pressure. And Anne as well, she is a really tough critic too because again, their expectations are just so high. But I like that they set the bar that high because I know I can reach it.”
George came in and contributed at a high level from the beginning of the season. Few could have guessed the player wearing number five for the Cardinals was a freshman. The young Cardinal brought what she could to the court and helped round off a potent team.
“I think what made me successful and allowed me to get to play like I did early on was that I’m gutsy. I’m not afraid to make a set in a really tight situation that might be off the wall. Like most setters would probably do the safe set to our go-to Lola, but I might have thrown in a slide in a really tight situation and it would work out, thankfully. There have been many times where I have been gutsy and it hasn’t worked out and that’s on me, but I think that that’s the thing that really helped me and got me a kick start,” George said. “The training here has made me a far better setter than I was in high school. I understand decision-making processes; I understand when to set outside, middle or right in different situations and I think that understanding the whole systems of setting is really important. I think that’s what I’ve grown to become over the past year.”
George came in with a want-to-win attitude and that’s what she got her freshman year. The cast of talent that she was a part of is not easily replaceable; some of the seniors that graduated will go down as some of the greatest to ever play volleyball here at U of L. Coming in and being exposed to that sort of competitive environment will have her and the rest of Coach Korde’s team doing everything in their power to live up to the greatness set here at U of L.
“Lola and Gwen, you can’t replace those people. Lola is just awesome, but we have a great recruiting class coming in. I don’t know if people’s expectations will go down since we lost such powerful hitters but I know for us as a team and coaches, our expectations aren’t going to go down at all. We knew what we were capable of then and we know that we still have the core of the team and we think that we are just as capable if not more. We had great team chemistry and I think that we will have even better team chemistry this coming year,” George said. “There is something called ‘culture kids,’ and those are people who it’s not just about technique. They are people who can get down and grind it out, they are winners, and I think we have more of those kids coming in. I think that when push comes to shove its not about, ‘She is athletic,’ it’s about, ‘Is she going to win, fight and do everything that she can to win?’ I think that that trumps athleticism any day.”
Photos by Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal