COLUMBIA — To an outsider, freshman Catie Wilson’s presence on the MU volleyball team might appear to be a continuation of a tradition.
Like former middle blocker Nicole Wilson, who exhausted her eligibility last season, Catie Wilson is 6 feet, 3 inches tall, a natural middle blocker and comes from eastern Nebraska, where she was highly touted coming out of high school. She’s even been told she looks like Nicole on several occasions.
But that’s where the similarities end. Catie Wilson is a native of Omaha, Neb, not Lincoln, like actual sisters Nicole and current teammate Megan Wilson. Catie Wilson not even related to the two other Nebraskans that share her last name. That hasn’t stopped the questions from coming.
“A lot of people have been asking me and Nicole if we’re sisters,” Catie Wilson said. “We both just happen to come from Nebraska. More people think me and Nicole are sisters than Nicole and Megan, because me and Nicole both have brown hair. I think it’s kind of funny.”
But though they look similar, they do not play similarly, according to coach Wayne Kreklow. He says he can’t think of another player he’s coached that reminds him of Catie Wilson.
“Generally, what we’ve had are quick, fast players,” he said. “Catie’s a little bit bigger, she’s got a little bit better size. She’s a smart player. You tell her things and it registers.”
Kreklow cited the team’s match last Saturday at Iowa State, where Wilson was called twice for illegal sets and then changed how she was passing the ball to avoid getting called for the violation again.
To Kreklow, that showed that she has grasped the mental part of the game, though he says she still needs to improve on the physical aspects.
”I think the challenge for Catie is that physically, she’s got to get to a Big 12 level here,” he said. “A lot of kids coming in haven’t trained hard. The lifting, the strength and conditioning, the pace of the play, they haven’t had an opportunity to do at a high level. Physically, she’s got to get up to speed to play at this level.”
He’ll get no argument from Wilson, who is the first to admit that she wants to develop into a more physical player. Through working with Nicole Wilson in practice, Catie Wilson has seen a glimpse of the player that she hopes to become before her career at MU is finished.
“Nicole’s definitely a big hitter, a very physical player,” Catie Wilson said. “That’s something that I would like to grow into and become more physical when I play volleyball.”
But she’s had to put those plans on hold for the time being because of the injury to sophomore outside hitter Julianna Klein, which has forced Wilson to split time between her natural middle blocker position and the outside hitter position, which she is far less familiar with. When coupled with the adjustment to collegiate volleyball, the difficult blow to the Tigers has put Wilson in the unusual role of having to learn how to play two positions at once.
“It’s a big adjustment for her, because the pace of the game is a lot faster, so she’s being asked to do a lot of things,” Kreklow said. “It’s hard enough to learn one (position), and it’s hard enough just to get acclimated to the college game. She’s out there trying to fill a gap right now.”
For her part, Wilson has taken the attitude that she has to do whatever it takes to help her team get going in the conference season, no matter what role that requires her to take on.
“Now that Jules is hurt, I had to step up and fill a role that wasn’t actually mine for the taking,” she said. “It’s tough, but it’s a good opportunity, and I’m really excited that I have this role now.”
While adjustments are part of any freshman’s early collegiate experience, Wilson’s young career has seen a few more odd things than most freshmen. After the first match of her career in the Hearnes Center, Wilson got her first experience of signing autographs. What she wasn’t prepared for was having a young fan thrust a rubber snake in her face while she was signing and giving interviews.
“I was totally surprised,” she said. “That kid is always around, but it was kind of funny that he came up in the middle of an interview. To him, it doesn’t mean anything, he doesn’t know what’s going on, but it just made me more like ‘OK, what do I do now?’”
But so far, the interview line is the only place where she’s ever looked uncomfortable as a Tiger, and if she can adjust to the teams in the Big 12 as well as she’s adjusted off the court, Kreklow said he will be pleased with the result.
“She’s got a lot to learn and a long way to go yet, but she’s holding her own right now,” he said. “As we continue to play, I’m hoping that she can catch on to some of the little things, particularly the pace of the game.”