Devastation poured in when the news was given to senior Kali Eaken that her college volleyball career was over after a torn ACL, but 13 games remained on Wichita State’s schedule from the time of her Oct. 12 injury.
The former Louisville setter realized that her senior leadership was still needed.
Providing another voice from the sideline, Eaken has embraced her job of sharing her knowledge with the Shockers’ younger setters and being the volleyball team’s biggest cheerleader.
“You know, it’s hard not being out there with them and everything,” Eaken said. “But my biggest role is to try to be supportive and be a good teammate and just tell them what I see. It’s mainly more of a supportive role than a demanding role. Just trying to be supportive, try to be a good teammate, and be there for people.”
Seeing how Louisville’s successful offense landed the Cardinals in two NCAA tournament appearances in Eaken’s first three seasons, she provided feedback to Wichita State’s setters on tempo, height on the set, and setting up middle blockers and outside hitters for scores. When her ACL injury occurred, the Bishop Miege product reassured her replacements, redshirt freshman Kora Kauling and junior Jordan Roberts, that they could execute the Shockers’ game plan.
Whenever Kauling and Roberts come back to the bench during a substitution or timeout, Eaken is the first one to give them positive comments while telling them what could have been better on the recent plays. According to Roberts, that has helped her and Kauling develop into better players.
“I think just the fact that she’s older and she’s had time on the court…even with Kora and I not having as much experience on the court, I think she just really helped us remain calm and collected and just having fun rather than freaking out,” Roberts said. “Even if we didn’t have a great set or location, she’d be like ‘move on’. She constantly encouraged us.”
When Eaken is on the sidelines, she is able to have an angle that she never had as a player. That’s allowed her to inform the setters how they might have miscommunicated with their middles and outside hitters on a play as well as what the opposition is setting up.
In addition to acting as another coach, Eaken is providing consistent encouragement to her team regardless of the situation. Kauling notices that Eaken’s attitude lifts her teammates’ spirits.
“I think that even with her injury, that hasn’t stopped her,” Kauling said. “She’s just trying to constantly give us positive things to look into in the game and just keep everyone upbeat throughout the game. When everyone is getting frustrated, she always has something good to say. She’
s always smiling and cheering for everyone. So, I think that really helps the mood. Even if she’s not on the court, she definitely has an impact on our moods by keeping all of us up.”
Eaken will be recognized for Senior Day on Saturday before the Shockers take on North Texas at 2 p.m., having an “emotional” moment as she walks on Devlin Court inside Charles Koch Arena one last time. Although the 5-foot-10-inch setter only played in 17 matches for Wichita State, her influence has helped the setters gain confidence and be ready for their moments in the future.
Knowing her impact went beyond the stat sheet, Eaken is grateful that her leadership contributions are able to help the future of Wichita State volleyball.
“I’m sad it’s over, but I’m really thankful for the opportunity (head coach Chris Lamb) gave me to come here and play my last year,” Eaken said. “I’m from Kansas City, so it’s kind of like home. I’m close to home, my family will get to be here, so I’m really excited about the opportunity [to be recognized]. Even though I didn’t get the season that I wanted, obviously, I got to at least play a little bit and (Lamb) gave me a chance that a lot of people didn’t give me. I’m really just happy to have the opportunity to be a part of the program.”