Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Kopka battles her nerves, plays big to win starting spot as freshman

September 6, 2001
Freshman outside hitter Michelle Kopka (5) prepares to jump to block a ball held by co-assistance coach Daune Koester Wednesday during volleyball practice in Jenison Field House —

On a team where experience is minimal and youth is abundant, Spartan volleyball head coach Chuck Erbe needs some of the youth to mature quickly.

Freshman outside hitter Michelle Kopka - one of seven freshmen on the team - took steps in the right direction in Friday and Saturday’s MSU Volleyball Classic.

“I thought she did superb,” Erbe said. “I was very pleased with her performance.”

The 6-foot-1 Kopka had 35 kills in the Spartans’ tournament championship run. She recorded 10 kills in both her first collegiate game against Auburn and in her third match against Denver.

“I didn’t feel like a freshman out there,” Kopka said. “I felt like I could play with the girls who were out there.

“At times it showed I was inexperienced, but at other times I was happy with how I played.”

Kopka battled more than just the Auburn blockers in her Spartan debut. She also had to deal with a bad case of nerves and nausea before she stepped out on the court.

“I was so incredibly nervous before the game,” Kopka said. “But as you get the feel of the game the nervousness goes away.”

Adjusting to a new, faster style of volleyball has been tough for Kopka, who just moved to outside hitter - and to the country.

Kopka played middle blocker for her high school and club volleyball teams in Canada and competed with freshman outside hitter Kim Schram on Team Ontario. Kopka left the team early to begin working out with the Spartans.

The Canadian style of volleyball is much slower than the Big Ten’s style because of the high outside sets and a lack of emphasis on plays, Kopka said.

“The biggest adjustment I have had to make is getting used to the speed of the game,” Kopka said.

But Kopka has been able to learn her new position at a pace comparable to the speedy Big Ten games, Erbe said.

“The information transfer with Michelle is incredibly fast,” he said. “She learns things almost immediately.”

Kopka said she is 50 percent adjusted to the combination of a new country, a new school, a new position and a new style of volleyball.

“There’s a lot I need to work on - hitting, defense and timing,” she said. “But it’s starting to feel like it’s all kind of falling into place.”

That ability to learn quickly on top of improving her technical game have catapulted the freshman into the Spartans’ starting lineup.

“Michelle has shown great poise in practice, and she’s a tremendous competitor,” Erbe said. “And because she is all of these things and a physical presence, I had to start her.”

The starting role may seem like a lot for a freshman, but senior defensive specialist and co-captain Lisa Ashton said it’s important for Kopka to continue building on each performance.

“It’s extremely vital (that she steps up),” Ashton said. “It’s a tough situation to be a freshman and to step in and start for us and play all four matches.

“She adds a lot to team, having her as a freshman being able to play the role for us is huge. I’m really thankful she has been able to do that for us.”

And while Kopka still has a lot to learn before her potential is realized, her overall try-hard personality should carry her through, Erbe said.

“She’s learning,” Erbe said. “She also still has a lot of work to do on defense and with footwork.

“But the really good news about Michelle is she’s an extremely hard worker, she’s very focused and very bright.”

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