Jeff Kolpack, Published December 02 2010
Knuth finds her comfort zone in becoming an on-court leader for Bison volleyball team
When it comes to the Summit League, she’s the teacher and the other teams are the students. And the fact Knuth found her form that made her the two-time Summit Player of the Year somewhere around the middle of this season is a big reason the Bison will be in Minneapolis on Friday for the first round of the NCAA tournament.
NDSU takes on the University of Minnesota for the second time in three years in the tourney. For a while this season, it was looking questionable if the 6-foot Knuth was even going to make all-conference honors. She was playing more spots on the floor like on the right side and the experiment wasn’t working physically and mentally.
“I kind of became a head case,” she said. “It was a big change and I didn’t know if I was ready for it. Coach believed in me, but it was something I wasn’t comfortable with at all.”
It was something interim head coach Kari Thompson said became obvious as the season went along.
She said Knuth “became distracted.”
“She didn’t handle that very well,” Thompson said. “She put some of those things aside, started playing volleyball and having fun. She’s the type of kid that can do that and she’s happy she did that.”
One of the catalysts for Knuth going back to the old way of doing things was when setter Jennifer Lopez was sidelined with an injury. With a freshman setter and a more simplified approach, Knuth flourished.
Her first full match back in her old rotation, she said, was at Centenary College, and she led the Bison in kills for the first time this season – the 12th match overall for NDSU. And the hits kept coming from there.
“I guess that’s just the place for me and I’m fine with it,” Knuth said.
She leads the team in kills with 323 and is hitting .305 heading into the NCAA tournament. Two years ago in this match, Knuth’s role was simple: “Hit the ball really hard and score,” she said.
“Now it’s a little bit different,” she said. “I’m actually in a leader-by-example role and I always have to keep my head high and keep picking up our team whenever we get into a rut or whenever something bad happens.”
There was more of that than usual this year. The Bison switched head coaches when Erich Hinterstocker resigned at midseason and assistant Thompson took over. They enter the tournament with more losses, 10, than they’ve had in recent years.
But they also feel more at home in the Division I circles.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for us,” Knuth said. “But since we’ve been there before, we know what to expect. The thing that is good for us is we’ve played those big teams this year and have gotten the feeling what it should be like in those big atmospheres.”
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 9-11 a.m. on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.
Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia