Katie Fritzler hasn’t always had the easiest time fitting in. The Utah Valley volleyball middle blocker’s journey began in the small town of Sterling, Colo. Near the border of Nebraska and took her to Denton, Texas, which is just outside the bright lights of Dallas before she settled in Orem.
Even while she was still growing up in the tight nit community where her parents were schoolteachers, her 5-foot-11 height caused her to be perceived as an outsider.
“In my hometown I was the tallest person in my grade,” Fritzler said. “I got made fun of a lot.”
Despite the harsh treatment of her peers Fritzler excelled in high school, earning all-league first team honors en route to being recruited by BYU, Utah, North Texas and a handful of other universities.
She chose to become a member of the North Texas Mean Green, and was immediately confronted with the unique task of assimilating in a city with a population over 100,000, a stark contrast to Sterling, where seemingly everyone knows each other.
“It was like my last visit and I didn’t really want to go,” Fritzler said. “I was planning on going somewhere else, but my mom just said ‘take your last visit, see what happens’ and I committed on the spot there. I really liked it. They had really nice dorms and everything was super new.”
The senior isn’t alone in her desire that motivated her to try and experience something new, broaden her horizons, so to speak. Yet, the challenges that arose during her first year in college are uncommon.
Fritzler suffered a stress fracture and had to miss the first half of her freshman season. She developed friendships with her teammates that she said she still remains in contact with, but had a hard time adjusting to her new coach’s brazen style.
“My coach at North Texas was really intense and made me cry all the time,” Fritzler said. “It was just different being around everyone who had been through so much more than I had and having to go to a team where there was no one who was LDS. It was a big change.”
She eventually got her chance to shine on the court, and helped propel the Mean Green to a first-place result in their conference. Still, Fritzler felt out of place at times and decided to transfer.
“When I transferred I was looking at schools in Colorado and Utah – closer to home,” Fritzler said. “All the other schools that had been recruiting me before – all the spots were filled for my position. I hadn’t really been recruited by UVU before, but I talked to them and they had a spot open.”
However, her new beginning in Orem came with obstacles of its own. Women’s volleyball head coach Sam Atoa goes about completing his responsibilities in manner that was unfamiliar to Fritzler.
“I was going through my own things like transferring to a new school,” Fritzler said. “He’s a completely different coach from the North Texas coach. Sam really cares about us as individuals.
“I didn’t know how to handle it at first; I’d never had a really caring coach. Me and him always butted heads my first year here, but the last two years have been really good. We understand each other more and he’s accepted me for who I am, and I’ve accepted him for the coach he is. We have a great friendship now.”
The blonde-haired, brown-eyed Fritzler said she was rebellious her first year at UVU, but is grateful for Coach Atoa and her teammates for helping her change.
“Learning how to manage everything and not getting down,” Fritzler said of the adjustments she’s made. “Being positive was probably the thing coach and I argued about the most my first year here. I was really intense and if I messed up I took it personally. When I started being positive things started getting better.”
Constantly in motion, focused on several components of the game at once playing the middle blocker position, it’s easy to understand the pressure she puts on herself, but her role also provides opportunities for her to enjoy her sport, although she’s no longer the tallest player on the court.
“I really like getting a good kill, but blocking someone is probably my favorite thing,” Fritzler said. “You know it makes them so mad. Usually they’re taller than I am, so it’s nice to know that I’m shorter and can still block them.”
The Wolverines wrapped up regular season play recently and begin the WAC tournament Nov. 25 with the winner guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament, which begins Dec. 5.
“That’s like all we talk about,” Fritzler said about the possibility of competing against the nation’s best. We have beaten the team (New Mexico State) who’s seeded No. 1 – blew them out. It’s in our hands pretty much. We can go if we fight for it. Our whole theme is why not us?”
Fritzler spoke about a potential tournament berth with much more excitement than she did discussing the conclusion to her competitive volleyball career.
“It’s crazy, it still really hasn’t hit me yet,” Fritzler said. “I mean it will be nice to have free time and do whatever I want, but at the same time I’m so used to it I’m not going to know what to do with myself. I’m looking forward to it but I’m really going to miss it. I don’t play volleyball for three days and I think ‘what’s wrong with me?’ I need volleyball.”
She is studying psychology at UVU and plans to graduate in the spring of next year.