Walk-on junior college transfer Kelly Katricka earns the starting libero spot – for now

By Gus Bode

It was almost too numerous to count, yet somehow junior libero Erica Miller still managed to keep track.

“I threw up 11 times,” Miller said.

That’s how horrible she felt nearly two weeks ago while in Des Moines, Iowa, before the Salukis faced Drake in the first weekend of Missouri Valley Conference play.

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The Dawgs had just arrived from a grueling road trip from Creighton, and the thought of playing a volleyball match made Miller’s uneasy stomach even more nauseous.

“I was a no-go,” she said in an understatement.

So in stepped junior Kelly Katricka.

A first-year walk-on transfer from Southwestern Illinois Community College, Katricka played exceptionally well in her first action as a Saluki.

Katricka accumulated 16 digs in the losing effort, providing the lone bright spot for SIU in an otherwise disappointing 3-0 defeat.

As a result, Katricka has yet to let go of the starting position. Her impressive play has her ranked eighth in the conference in digs per game during MVC play (3.29) and has earned the respect of head coach Sonya Locke and opponents alike.

“She brings some energy to the court, and she’s vocal when she’s out there, which is something that I think is necessary,” Locke said. “She plays with a lot of reckless abandon, and sometimes that’s OK as long as it stays corralled within the system.”

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Katricka is a native of Belleville, the same Southern Illinois town in which she played volleyball while attending community college.

Given SIU’s close proximity and strong academics for her chosen field, administration of justice, Katricka’s decision to attend SIU was a no-brainer.

“I’m from Belleville, so this is a good distance, an hour and a half,” Katricka said. “Mom just can’t pop down any time, and I can go home on weekends, and I can bring my laundry home.”

Katricka’s decision to walk on to the team was relatively easy as well.

She wanted to meet new friends and stay busy doing something other than school and work, not to mention play the game she loves.

SIU assistant coach Matt Affolder had been in contact with Katricka, and the two traded numerous phone calls. Katricka made a visit to SIU last year, confirming her decision to continue her volleyball career in Carbondale.

While Katricka believed her chances of making the team were good, she never thought she would get the chance to start.

“That wasn’t even really on my mind,” Katricka admitted.

But when the chance arose against Drake, she filled in admirably despite having the pressure of having to perform up to Miller’s level.

“I had some pretty big shoes to fill,” Katricka said. “[Erica] has already put in over two years here, and I was just trying to do the best I could.”

Katricka has utilized Miller’s knowledge of the system and has been watching her every move since the day she joined the team.

“Even before I was starting at the libero, I would always look at what [Erica] was doing, watching her, watching her feet move,” Katricka said. “Even doing ladders she always has her feet going, and I’m always trying to catch up. I really had to catch up to her and what she was doing.”

Now that Katricka has caught up, she must try to stay ahead. Locke insists there is an ongoing competition at the position, as there is for every other position on the court.

But to Miller and Katricka, it is a friendly competition. There is absolutely zero contempt between the two, and their relationship remains the same as it was before.

And just because Miller isn’t starting doesn’t mean she hasn’t seen any action.

In the Salukis’ 3-2 victory over Southeast Missouri State, Miller entered the game each time it got close down the stretch or when the SIU defense seemed to lag.

Miller played the same role this weekend, seeing plenty of action when the Salukis needed some solid defensive play against Bradley and Northern Iowa.

“We’re trying to put the best defensive ball control on the court, and I think we can get that with both of them out there,” Locke said. “Erica is more knowledgeable of our system in various positions versus Kelly right now, so that’s why we choose to use Kelly in middle back and Erica in left back.”

Miller has accepted her current role, and both she and Katricka think that no matter who is in there, either can get the job done.

“We are both very competitive,” Miller said. “And I think that whoever plays, we still have the same shot of winning.”

Reporter Adam Soebbing can be reached at [email protected]

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