Surprises have surrounded sophomore outside hitter-turned-defensive specialist Stephanie Knopp all year.
A pre-season chat with MSU head coach Chuck Erbe left Knopp thinking she had to improve if she wanted to play, she said.
When I talked to Chuck at the beginning of the year, I still had a lot of work to do, Knopp said.
But some of the work Knopp has done in the Spartans seven matches this season has been crucial to the teams undefeated record.
She stepped in for senior defensive specialist and co-captain Lisa Ashton, who has been bothered with a nagging back injury.
And Ashton said Knopps play has been a big reason for the teams success.
Im really proud of her and how shes been playing and stepping up for us, Ashton said. Its just been huge for us.
After competing in only one game last season, Knopp saw her first action on Sept. 1 in the third match of the season against Denver.
Right away, Knopp boosted the Spartans with three aces and two digs. She finished the four-game match with five aces and nine digs.
Playing in every game since that breakout performance, Knopps serving has become her strong point. She has recorded at least one ace in every game shes played in this season - 12 aces total.
My serve, I really dont think, is that tough at all, Knopp said. Its a pretty normal float serve. The coaches tell me where to serve and I serve it there.
Theyre the ones who pick out the open areas and the players wholl have a tough time handling a serve.
Erbe said Knopps serving has been one of the nicest surprises so far this season. She ranks seventh in the conference for aces per game.
I certainly didnt expect her to serve aces and put as much pressure on our opponents when she serves as she has (in the past), Erbe said.
Now Knopp is in the main rotation and has been playing a bigger role in every game as her confidence grows, she said.
I definitely feel more comfortable just from getting the experience and a feel on the court, she said. Im not as scared anymore when games start, and I feel like I can play with the people on the other side of the net now.
Knopp said shes trying to share her volleyball experience to the Spartan team and its seven freshmen.
I just think I bring some experience, Knopp said. I know some of the girls on the team have been playing a lot of volleyball, but being from a different state (California), I play a different kind of game.
Erbe said Knopps volleyball history and attitude have never been questionable.
Shes got a ton of volleyball experience, Erbe said. Its just been a matter of her adjusting to the things that we want and having a commitment to wanting to be in the main rotation.
Staying composed is also one of Knopps specialties.
Shes really had a calming impact on the other players, Erbe said. They love playing with her because shes so comfortable on the court.
Thats because she really does have fun playing, she said.
Ive been told Im a lot of fun to play with on the court, she said. I try to have a good balance of cheering at the right times and being serious at other times.