Svoboda’s selection of Buffalo over Ohio State has led to historic career at UB
Published: Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 20:10
Kelly Svoboda knows winning isn’t the same everywhere.
The Cleveland, Ohio, native was promised a roster spot on the Ohio State volleyball team, but head coach Geoff Carlston couldn’t guarantee a full scholarship – she may have had to walk on. Ohio State was her “dream school” and one of the best programs in the country.
The Buckeyes weren’t the only team, however, to draw her attention. She was offered a full scholarship and the opportunity to turn a struggling program into a contender at Buffalo.
She didn’t have much time to make a decision, and Bulls head coach Todd Kress gave her an ultimatum. He told Svoboda Buffalo needed a commitment before she went to Miami, Fla., for her club team’s national championship tournament.
Not many athletes would turn down the packed crowds and Big Ten environment for the dim lights of the Mid-American Conference. Svoboda did.
She didn’t want to blend in as just another piece of a prestigious university’s puzzle. She wanted to leave a lasting legacy.
“[The coaches] really talked about how it takes someone special to come to a program that’s at the bottom and build it up, compared to going into an already great program,” Svoboda said. “I embraced the challenge. I wanted the challenge.”
Although the Bulls struggled through Svoboda’s first three seasons in Buffalo (finishing 39-53, 13-35 MAC combined), she and the team have thrived this season. The Bulls (16-7, 4-6 MAC) opened the year winning their first 12 games, and Svoboda has won MAC East Defensive Player of the Week honors twice.
She has recorded 449 digs (19.5 per game)this season and ranks second in UB history with 1,758 career digs – just 126 behind all-time leader Lizaiha Garcia. Svoboda is on pace to break the mark.
Svoboda never considered going anywhere besides Ohio State before her club volleyball teammate, senior outsider hitter Christine Fritsche, told Svoboda she had accepted a scholarship from Buffalo. She told Svoboda to at least visit before committing to the Buckeyes.
Even after her teammate’s endorsement, the decision to pick UB wasn’t easy. She spoke at great length with Kelly Coughlin – her first Cleveland Volleyball Company coach and “the man who got [her] into serious volleyball” – before coming to a conclusion. Coughlin understood it was Svoboda’s dream to play at Ohio State, but told her she could be part of a revolution at Buffalo.
Svoboda said there have been moments in her college career when she has faced both personal and team-related challenges and has thought to herself how much easier it would have been to go to Ohio State.
One of her biggest challenges was being thrown into a leadership role in her sophomore season. The Bulls had only one senior in 2011 and the remainder of the team was either freshmen or sophomores. Buffalo finished the season 11-19 and won only four MAC games in what Svoboda described as one of her most stressful years of volleyball.
This year, the team was in a much different position when Svoboda’s dream school visited Alumni Arena on Sept 21. The Bulls were 12-0 and playing with an unfamiliar confidence. Although they were swept by the Buckeyes, Svoboda enjoyed her moment playing opposite the red and white colors she almost sported.
“We were really jacked up,” Svoboda said. “It was great to play against them. It would have been better if we beat them, but it made me happy I chose UB even more because it made me look at where I’ve been and where I am now.”
Svoboda calls the libero position her “passion” as she loves the grittiness that it demands. She puts her body through extreme agony with every full-body extension and roll on Alumni Arena’s unforgiving wooden floor.
For Katie Svoboda, her mother, it’s hard to watch her daughter play such a laboring position, as Svoboda sacrifices her body nearly every possession. Katie notices the plays when Svoboda rises to her feet a little slower, following a rough dive or when she misplays a ball.
“She gives me a heart attack,” Katie said.
Katie and Bill Svoboda Sr. drive to nearly every one of Svoboda’s games, even if it means missing work. Bill Sr. is the assistant principal at Trinity High School – Svoboda’s alma mater – in Garfield Heights, Ohio, and Katie works for a health care company.