Oct. 16, 2007
by Jeff Smith
When Katherine Dykstra was recruited to play volleyball at the University of Wisconsin, she only had two years of playing under her belt. Yet Wisconsin head coach Pete Waite saw potential in the young recruit from Wilmette, Illinois. She came from an athletic family, was an accomplished musician, a well-rounded student, had an interest in sign language, and perhaps most recognizable, she was tall.
Waite admits that his junior opposite hitter came to Madison with raw talent and was one just waiting to bloom. But he also felt that a 6-3, the Badgers could develop Dykstra into one of the best blockers in the conference. It wasn't just her height that grabbed Waite's attention either. Dykstra has a wingspan that stretches six feet and nine inches long and her vertical jump take her 10 feet and eight inches high. Those numbers would have any volleyball coach in line to sign her up, seeing the volleyball net is only seven feet, four inches off the ground.
"In volleyball, it is absolutely how high you can play above the net," said Waite. "Her height, reach and vertical jump makes her rise above the rest. She has extraordinary long arms and she is overall an exceptional athlete."
In high school, Dykstra was the starting center on her basketball team that finished second in the 2004 state tournament and was also an All-State selection in track as a sophomore. That same season she captured the state championship in the discus.
Volleyball, however, grew to be her true love. While her volleyball skills were still maturing as a freshman, Waite and Dykstra agreed that having her redshirt the first year would be the best for her situation. Agreeing to it didn't make it any easier.
"It was so tough to sit through that year because I wanted to be on the court," Dykstra said. "I learned so much about the game though and I am so thankful now to have this opportunity."
Dykstra played sparingly in her sophomore season, appearing in 15 matches, including one as a starter. She averaged 0.62 kills and 0.62 blocks per game in reserve duty. This season, however, Dykstra has played an integral role in the Badgers' success, as Wisconsin is off to its best start in school history at 16-1, ranked eighth in the country, and is a perfect 8-0 in Big Ten play.
When teammate Audra Jeffers, who underwent minor back surgery in the offseason, moved to the middle this year, it opened up a spot for Dykstra on the opposite right side. Waite's "disrupter at the net" is currently ranked near the top 10 in conference blocking with an average of 1.06 blocks per game and has totaled 50 stops this season. An impressed Waite notes that Dykstra has put a lot stress on the opponent's outside hitters this year because "they have to deal with her every time."
"Coach and I always talk about getting over the net and being within six or eight inches of the ball, so the hitter can't go anywhere with it," Dykstra said. "Every game I feel like I have to go up and get the ball because it is not going to come to me."
Playing volleyball at this level has come with a price however. An accomplished musician, Dykstra has had to distance herself from one of her passions in order to meet her time commitments for volleyball. She has played the bassoon since the fifth grade and picked up the clarinet and flute in high school. Her dream is to one day play for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
"I still play in a band here at UW, and we have rehearsals and concerts throughout the month," Dykstra said. "I have always been involved with music, but I knew I would have to put that aside some because of volleyball. But that is why I am here."
A social work major, Dykstra admits that if she wasn't playing volleyball, she would be majoring in music. She still hopes to pursue a degree in music after college.
According to Waite, Dykstra's dedication and involvement in music is one of the things that he looks for in a student-athlete.
"I would much rather see them well-rounded and have interests outside of volleyball than seeing them only interested in volleyball year-round," he said. "Being such a high-level musician tells me she has great patience and can juggle things all at once."
While volleyball has put her music career aside for the time being, it has not stopped her from mastering another trait. Dykstra is fluent in sign language. While at Wisconsin, she became close friends with someone who was hearing impaired and found that she wanted to learn the language to help build the friendship.
"I started learning sign language in high school and I am taking a few classes up here," she said. "One of my best friends signs at full speed, so I have to be able to understand what he is saying. (Signing) has come to me better than any other spoken language I have tried to learn."
Relationships are important to Dykstra and one fellow Badger she is particularly close to on campus is her older brother Peter. A decathlete on the Badgers' track and field team, Peter and his sister have only strengthen their bond since Katherine arrived at UW.
"Peter was able to give Kat advice from the first day she got on campus, which I definitely think helped her," Waite said.
Katherine is quick to point out the comfort she feels knowing that her older brother is just a mile away.
"When I first came up here, there were 50,000 people up here and I thought I'd never get to see him," she said. "I see him a lot more than I thought I would. He has always been my best friend and it's great that he comes to all of my matches. In the spring, it's great to be able to go to all of his meets and support him."
The younger Dykstra is thankful to have around another Badger come Christmas time, seeing that her father Larry played basketball and competed in track at Illinois, while her uncle Greg (his brother) was a student-athlete for the Illini as well. She jokes the holidays can be a little questionable, teasing each other about which school is best, but she admits that both of her parents have been extremely supportive of both Peter and her attending Wisconsin. And yes, dad wears his Wisconsin gear when they attend both kids' events.
This season has not been an easy one of the Badgers. Earlier this season, Wisconsin embarked on a five-week, 10-match road trip.
"It was intimidating to see we were going to be gone for five straight weekends," Dykstra said. "We have great fans supporting us back home and it was a struggle. We knew we had to get it done on the road because if you can establish yourself on the road, you are going to be a pretty good team."
They finished the journey 9-1 and 4-0 in conference play.
As for Dykstra, she too has established herself on the court and is winning praises from Waite.
"Kat is still new to the court, but she is improving all the time for us."
Proof all along that even without the family background, the music, the academics, the ability to sign, and the height which makes Katherine Dykstra so special, Waite saw one thing in this young recruit from Wilmette.
A rising star.