By Thomas Corhern Cookeville Herald-Citizen
COOKEVILLE — It’s not easy being a collegiate student-athlete. With long schedules of classes, workouts, studying, work, more studying, then playing their sport, it gets to be a grind.
But there are those student-athletes who go above and beyond just their required duties. There are those who give back to their adoptive communities and try to make a difference. Those senior athletes are recognized every year by Tennessee Tech with the University’s Man and Woman of the Year awards.
This year’s recipient of the Woman of the Year award, volleyball standout Katherine “Kappy” Lang, was tireless in her efforts.
Not only was she an all-Ohio Valley Conference honoree for the league champion Golden Eagle volleyball team, she was also an excellent student in the classroom. Then, as president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Lang helped spearhead several community service initiatives.
Needless to say, Lang proved the perfect example for what it truly means to be a student-athlete.
Lang is the sixth recipient of the award from the Tech volleyball program, joining Bonnie Zoss (1993), Rachel Melchiorre (1998), Diane Seng (2000), Laura Sidorowicz (2005) and Anne Morrow (2006).
“I’m just very honored,” Lang said. “I always looked up to Laura (Sidorowicz), so I think it’s a very big deal to follow in her footsteps and be as successful as some of the older girls were. They were role models to us and we always wanted to leave the program in better shape then when we started. We seniors did that and I’m very honored.”
Lang beat out another strong field of candidates which included volleyball teammate Jessica Asplund; Blair Bowens, Meagan Lyons and Allison Price from basketball; Keri Light and Stephanie Place from cross country and track; Madison Denman and Ashley Spangler from golf; Kristina Hortert from softball; and Katie Morrissey from soccer.
“It’s well-deserved recognition for Kappy,” said TTU volleyball coach John Blair. “Kappy was much more than a volleyball player her four years here.”
Being able to balance all of those elements is a tough task for any student-athlete.
“It really is,” Lang said. “But it is very worthwhile to give back to the community that supported us. It made the experience much better because we got to meet more people in the community.”
A typical day for Lang when she was in season went like this:
“We’d get up and have morning classes,” Lang said. “We’d have weights at 11, then more classes. Every Tuesday, I’d have Beta Alpha Psi, which is an accounting club. If I had a meeting, I’d go to weights in the morning. I’d have to coordinate with (strength) coach (Chip) Pugh and Katie (Sutherland), and they were always willing to work with me. Then we’d have practice. Certain days it was earlier when girls would have labs on other days, but practice usually lasted two and a half hours. I’d get there early, get stretched, get taped. I’d get home around 9 p.m. and do homework, then go to bed around 11 or 12, then turn around and do it all again.”
Lang completed her bachelor’s degree in accounting in May with a 3.73 GPA, and is set to begin her master’s program in the fall.
One of the things stressed in the Tech athletics department is that it’s not just athletes, but student-athletes. Academics are just as important as the results on the court.
“That’s exactly true,” Lang said. “Coming in, you’ve got to know you can’t focus on just athletics and your sport alone. Teachers don’t care if you won your game last night, you still have to get your homework done, do well in classes. I knew that once I graduated there’s no pro volleyball team, and my grades mattered to me. That’s what was going to get me to the next level. I got into DePaul and that’s where I’m going in September to get my master’s. But it was always important to me to stay with my classes and make sure I got everything done and I succeeded with that.”
On the court, Lang led the Ohio Valley Conference in assists with 1,274 for the year, 1.2 more per game than her nearest competitor.
With her leadership, Lang helped lead the Golden Eagles to their first OVC regular-season championship since 1983 — tying with Morehead State — and tournament championship since 1997.
Tech made its first trip to the NCAA volleyball tournament since that same year and became the first OVC team since 2000 to win a set in the tournament.
“Big matches are her stage,” Blair said. “They always have been. She wasn’t a gamer, because she worked hard all the time. When it came to a big match, there seemed to be a certain calmness that came about her, an intensity that was there. She is like a Joe Montana-type that when the game was there, the focus was almost palpable. There wasn’t a big match in her career that she didn’t play up or beyond her abilities.”
Then, on top of all the athletic and academic accomplishments, Lang was a major player in the Tech athletics community service scene, serving as president for SAAC.
“Some of the older girls were in it,” Lang said. “Jess Seyfert was president one year and I just followed her. I was always active in high school, and I always felt that it was a better way to get to know people. You got to know the campus and it’s people a lot better. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed being busy and active. It was a great experience.”
Among the initiatives Lang worked on this past year was assistance at Mustard Seed Ranch.
“Teams that were in season could donate time,” Lang said. “Some teams donated crayons and markers for the kids that were staying there.
“We also collected change and cans for our annual canned food drive, but we always tried to change up the project during the year. My junior year, we worked with Genesis House, so it was usually different every year.”
“She was kind of that model what a student-athlete should be,” Blair said. “She didn’t get involved with community service projects because that was what she was supposed to do. She did that because that was what she wanted to do. When she came here, she came from a high school and a community that really stressed that, so it was kind of a natural transition for her to just be involved with everything.
"To be honest, that’s what she sought out. She really looked at Tennessee Tech because it offered her the opportunity to do those things, to be involved with the community, to have a personal life, to compete on a balanced stage where she would have a chance at success on the court. She also recognized the educational opportunity she had at Tech. When you combine all of those things together, it’s hard for her not to think that this was the place to be.”
Historically at Tech, volleyball has always had exemplary academic success and that tradition has not receded.
“It has,” Blair said, “and if you look at our program, I don’t think you’re going to see anything different from other programs around the country, let alone the OVC. Every team in the conference, whether they’ve been able to win the conference or not, has had grat student athletes."