“New times, new roles”

Kara Bauman

Many athletes have encountered one or more coaches before college who seemed focussed on making playing time fair. It could have been an attempt to make everyone happy and eliminate any potentially hurt feelings, but it was probably to avoid the wrath of angry parents via voicemail, e-mail or, God forbid, a loud reprimand in person.

Freshman Courtney Karst used to be the big fish in a little pond in Centennial, Colo., but had an eye-opening experience in her relocation to the bigger pond at Arizona.

“”It felt like I was starting over,”” said Karst, who was a 2008 Volleyball Magazine Fab-50 selection. “”When you come to the college level, it’s like everyone is First Team All-State, or an All-American for club or a top recruit.””

Welcome to the Arizona volleyball program.

Karst, the only player in her freshman class to start in a match, has gotten a good share of playing time as middle blocker. Fellow freshman Dana Hutchinson has seen the court on several occasions in the outside hitter position as well, but only as a relief player so far.

Playing time has been and will continue to be a taboo subject to discuss. UA head coach David Rubio is sensitive to the matter, but thinks rationally about his program at the same time.

“”I think it’s always a challenge for the seniors, who have been in the program the longest, to accept those roles,”” Rubio said. “”Basically, you have to put the team in front of your own self-interest and that’s tough sometimes – especially if you’ve invested as much time as the seniors have.””

Senior Brooke Buringrud has been a main contributor to the Wildcat family in her time at Arizona, ranking fourth on the team in kills (218) and service aces (22) last season alone.

But there have been some slight alterations since then.

Buringrud said her current role on the team is as a front-row reliever or a defensive specialist for redshirt sophomore Whitney Dosty and Karst. A defensive specialist’s job is to play back row for a teammate who primarily plays in the front row.

Despite the discouraging outlook of the situation, Buringrud maintains a positive attitude.

“”I definitely haven’t given up the hope to start again,”” Buringrud said. “”I think that with the talent level on this team, the starting spots could change every weekend depending on who we play and how practice went that week.””

Karst said the upperclassmen players are very consistent because of their experience. As a result, she appreciates their encouragement and advice in practice. She said the squad generally keeps things positive by supporting each other on and off the court, regardless of who is starting or how old they are.

But that’s not necessarily what’s going on in their heads.

“”The people who aren’t playing are happy for the people who are,”” Karst said. “”But in the back of their mind, they’re thinking, ‘In practice, I’m going to try and beat you no matter what. Just because you’re playing now doesn’t mean I won’t be playing later.'””

Those in the senior class are three years older than the freshmen. Similarly, Karst is three years older than her little sister, Bailey, who is a sophomore in high school. The thought of her sister starting over her made Karst’s competitive side come out.

“”I’d be pissed and I’d want to beat her out,”” Karst said without hesitation. “”I think I’d go to a whole other level of competitiveness. I would never come into a practice slacking – not that I do now – but I’d work 10 million times harder than I already do. I don’t want my younger sister playing over me.””

After she calmed down, Karst saw how this example parallels playing time within the team and how hard some roles would be to accept.

Buringrud and her teammates recognize that change is a part of college volleyball, but the hard work and dedication they put forth every day remains intact.

“”I think that a lot of people, especially the seniors, are seeing new roles, but it doesn’t mean that we’re not an integral part of the team or the program,”” Buringrud said. “”We still go in there and do our part.””