So I was in attendance at the Creighton @ Kansas volleyball match a couple of weeks ago, and who should sit in the bleachers directly in front of me? I was pretty sure it was last year's Big 12 Volleyball Setter of the Year, Erin McNorton. Once I convinced myself I was right, I managed to introduce myself and my
fiancee sister cousin - yeah, that's it, my cousin - and strike up a conversation. Erin was very pleasant and gracious, and agreed to shoot me an email and do an interview for us.
At the very least, I thought it would be interesting to see what life is like as a student athlete and what it was like to be a key piece on a winning, major-college team. I promised I would only ask her out three times or less, which I'm sure kept her from getting too nervous to contact me.
mv: Hi Erin! Thanks so much for joining us! That was totally my cousin sitting next to me at the game. Let's start with what's going on in your life right now. Your eligibility is up, so what are you currently up to? Grad school? Work? What was your major?
EM: Well I majored in Business Management and Leadership from the business school because I wasn't really sure what exactly I wanted to do so I kept it pretty broad. Now I am interning in the Marketing department at a Construction company in Irving, TX. Thought about grad school but I need a break from the classroom atmosphere!
mv: Let's go back a few years. On your KU bio, it says you were named your high school district setter of the year in 2009 and led your team to two straight bi-district championships (Plano West, Dallas, TX). Tell us what it was like choosing a college as a "non-revenue sport" student athlete. Were you actively recruited by Coach Bechard?
EM: Even though it is a non-revenue sport the amount of support from everyone is crazy. In the athletic department, all sports get treated pretty equally. I was more in contact with then assistant Coach Posey (she is at UMKC now) and got to finally meet Coach B when I went on my official visit.
mv: What other schools recruited you or were you interested in?
EM: I honestly wasn't recruited very heavily in high school. I went on one other visit to the Army (West Point) which was a great opportunity but just not something that was a good fit for me.
mv: Did any of them have a chance at signing you?
EM: I had pretty much made the decision at the beginning of my senior year of high school I didn't want to play college volleyball. I was pretty done with the sport and didn't see myself doing it for another 4 years. After I got in contact with KU I decided to go on an official visit and I don't know how anyone says no to this school after they see what all it has to offer athletically, academically, and the atmosphere in Lawrence in general.
mv: What was the recruiting process like? Probably nothing like what we hear about in men's basketball and football - endless calls, texts, etc.
EM: For me, again because I wasn't heavily recruited, it wasn't too crazy - more a lot of mail/questionnaires and emails. There were a couple phone calls but for the most part it was a pretty calm recruiting process.
mv: You had some Kansas ties already, with an uncle who played football at KU and your dad actually played football at Kansas State. Did they "assist" you in picking a college at all?
EM: I more started looking at schools for just school not volleyball. My parents didn't give me any real boundaries with where I ended up. They didn't want me to go somewhere academically too challenging or not challenging enough - or just for volleyball, that was their big thing. My dad did make me apply to K-State.... and thankfully I didn't go that route. My uncle drove me around one weekend and gave me a grand tour of the KU campus and I immediately fell in love.
mv: Kansas was not exactly strong in volleyball when you arrived - in fact they were quite average overall but near the bottom of the conference in conference play. Did that affect your decision at all?
EM: Not at all, I didn't want to solely make my decision on the volleyball side of things. I absolutely loved the girls on the team and the coaching staff was and still is great. There is such a support system around the team. When I got back from my visit and talked to my parents about going or not my dad said "I don't know one reason why you wouldn't" and he was right on point.
mv: I find that interesting that your dad, who played football at K-State, didn't try to dissuade you from KU. Why do you think he was OK with you going to Lawrence?
EM: He came on my official visit with me and I think he saw what a great opportunity it was. My sister ran track and cross country at Texas A&M and I went on quite a few other visits with my parents. I think they were able to really compare KU’s athletic department with other big Division 1 schools and see it really does rank up top with the best. I also think he knew Lawrence in general was a great fit for my personality. The people here and the laid back environment was one thing that would have been hard to find in other schools.
mv: In your first year (2010) you didn't play a lot, and Kansas volleyball continued to be... mediocre. You got some action as a reserve in 2011, and in 2012, you started every match for KU. In fact, 2012 was a big turnaround year for the volleyball program, going from 15-14 (3-13 Big 12) in 2011 to 26-7 (12-4 Big 12). What happened, what changed? Was it just because you started every match in 2012? Be honest!!
EM: Haha no I don't think I had that much to do with it. My sophomore year, 2011, we were always so close to finishing games but could never quite pull it out. We lost so many games by just 2 points and the big difference between those two years I think was we were comfortable in those tight situations and we were able to close out games.
mv: Tell us about a typical "day in the life" of a volleyball player (on a non-game day). How much did you practice? Study? How much free time does a student-athlete have?
EM: A typical day usually includes classes during the day sometimes mixed in with tutoring. Then practice usually started around 3-ish for about 2-2 ½ hours, weights for about 45 min afterwards, then dinner together, and usually some tutoring/studying after that. It sounds like a busy day but I enjoyed the routine aspect of it. We got every Sunday off too for the most part, so that was always something to look forward to!
mv: Is the volleyball team a pretty tight-knit group? Did you girls hang out together, go out together, etc.?
EM: EXTREMELY close group. Especially the seniors that just graduated. There were six of us that lived in a house by the stadium for the past two years. We hung out for the most part every weekend together. I think our personalities were all so different from each other that we never really got sick of one another and we all worked really well together.
mv: Take us on a "typical" road trip. Did you bus? Fly?
EM: Preseason we fly pretty much everywhere. Once we get into Big 12 play we chartered (a plane) to Baylor, Lubbock, and West Virginia, which is REALLY nice on our class schedules as we would leave the day before the game and come back right after the game was over. We drive to Manhattan, Iowa State, and Oklahoma on a charter bus which is actually really fun with everyone. And then we would fly commercial to TCU and Austin. We travel extremely well and coach B makes sure that we don't take it for granted at all.
mv: I think that KU has a pretty good "home court advantage" in Horejsi - it's almost always packed, the crowd is loud, the pep band is rocking the building - but how does it compare to other schools in the Big 12?
EM: Without a doubt it is a huge home court advantage. Especially the band, we all love them! Talking to other people they absolutely hate playing there because it is so much smaller and gets way louder than a lot of the schools we play at that use the big basketball gymnasiums as their courts.
mv: Who would you say has the "best" atmosphere outside of KU?
EM: I would probably say the place I hated playing the most in the Big 12 was KState, I'm sure it gets extra wild for us but their fans are extremely loud and the gym is small and much different than the other ones we play in. (Editor's Note: KSU plays volleyball in Ahearn Fieldhouse.) Outside of the Big 12, Wisconsin had a great atmosphere when we played there last year. They are always high in the attendance ratings and they were loud, too.
mv: I usually see at least a couple of men's basketball players at the home volleyball matches. Last year I even saw Joel Embiid come check it out a couple of times. Do you gals ever notice them? Either way, that's got to be cool, right?
EM: Haha they are pretty hard to miss! They might even be the reason some of the fans come out. But it is cool when the other sports come out and watch us. We are all pretty good friends with people on the other teams and I think KU athletics does a good job of supporting all the teams which makes it even more fun to play!
mv: Now take us behind the scenes to last year's Sweet 16 in Los Angeles. Washington is a nationally ranked, perennial volleyball powerhouse. Was there any kind of intimidation factor? I only ask, because as a viewer, it looked like KU didn't get comfortable until the third set - at that point you played tough, but it was too late.
EM: I just don't think we ever found our rhythm and got comfortable there. I wouldn't say any of us were nervous, we were all actually very calm and relaxed, but things just never really clicked with all of us until the third set.
mv: Regardless of the final outcome, 2013 was a huge success, and congratulations go to your and your teammates on all the success. Coach Bechard looks primed to capitalize on that success with a highly regarded recruiting class this year. Should we expect KU volleyball to keep on this upward trajectory?
EM: Oh yes! The coaches are awesome, the girls are lucky to have them. They all compliment each other really well and I think that's what started all the success and continues it. Sara (McClinton) and Chelsea (Albers) being seniors this year I think will be the biggest part, both returning All-Americans.... pretty impressive. I love watching them play, and I get even more nervous watching than I ever did playing!
mv: Anyone specific on last year's team that you are in regular contact with? This year's team?
EM: I still keep in contact with just about everyone from my class but I talk to Brianne Riley and Jaime Mathieu pretty much on a daily basis. We were all really close with each other so its weird going from seeing them all day every day to living in different states. On this year's team I talk to Chelsea Albers almost every day too, she still manages to make me laugh even from eight hours away... she has quite the personality!
mv: Had you ever heard of Rock Chalk Talk before I said something to you at the Creighton match on Saturday?
EM: I had not, but I look forward to reading more of your articles!
mv: Ok, one final question - will you go to the Homecoming dance with me? Wait... is there a homecoming dance?
EM: Hahaha you will have to fight Brianne Riley for that one!!
mv: Hmm. Well maybe I could at least buy you a couple of drinks at The Wheel? Ok, ok, I cannot tell a lie, she wasn't my cousin, she was my fiancee. But she's a huge volleyball fan, so maybe she could buy the drinks and you can share some hilarious road trip stories. Off-record, of course. Sound doable?
EM: Haha we did have some great stories from spending so much time together! I think for the most part on bus trips we were asleep a good 90% of the team (well, me at least) but when we weren’t, Chelsea Albers would come up with some really good "Would You Rathers" which would spark a lot of debate back and forth between all of us. It would actually get pretty funny listening to people’s reasons for picking one thing over another. There was one in particular involving eating a truck full of butter that went on for a couple days!
Another one was Brie (Riley) and I usually (in a friendly way) picked on Jaime (Mathieu) and liked to play little tricks on her. We lived on the same floor as each other and we were packing to leave for Texas. It was in October so it was still pretty hot down south. We told Jaime it was freezing there and a snow storm was coming in, so all she brought to wear were big sweats and her parka jacket. When we got to practice Coach B talked about how hot it was there so drink plenty of water... Jaime I think almost killed the two of us… we still laugh about it today! (That might have been the nicest prank we pulled on her but she was a GREAT sport.)
mv: I notice you didn't answer my question, there, Erin, but that's OK, I'll forgive you... THIS time! Maybe we'll see you in Lawrence for homecoming! I'll be in Section 4 at the Texas game. All you RCTers, you're also welcome to come and say hi!
Our thanks to Erin McNorton for stopping by and spending some time at RCT. Erin is also working on getting a few of her former KU athlete friends to answer a few questions as well, so I hope to have more of these coming up at some point in the future. I hope you enjoyed the read, and keep on Rockin' and Chalkin'!
As always, comments welcome. Also, let me know if there is anything you wish I would have asked and we can consider using such questions in future interviews.