SHS grad plays role on Volleyball Day


Yes, she was there for Volleyball Day Aug. 30.

No, she wasn’t in the stands with the other 92,000 spectators.

Instead, Katie (Hughes) Morris was on the sideline, helping coach the Wayne State College volleyball team.

“When we first walked in for practice, I just looked up and breathed it in,” she said.

“When I got there and walked in and saw it, the biggest smile came to my face.”

Morris is an assistant coach for the Wildcats. A Seward High alumna, she also played for Wayne State in college.

“It’s so crazy, that the sport of volleyball brought that together,” she said. “It could only happen in Nebraska. That’s what makes it special.”

Morris’ last season on the court at WSC was 2015. She took a year off after that and then came back to coach at her alma mater.

The Wildcats found out at the American Volleyball Coaches Association convention in December that Volleyball Day was being considered.

“Coach (John) Cook called our head coach and threw out the idea,” Morris said. “We could tell something crazy was going on. When we told us, we all just thought ‘no way.’

“It seemed too good to be true.”

Morris said WSC didn’t do a lot of extra preparation for the match, which was played outdoors at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. Because it was an exhibition game, that took some of the pressure off, she said.

The team was able to practice at the stadium Aug. 29. Morris said there was a bit of shell shock when the players realized how important the weather would be.

Spatial awareness was also key. With no ceiling and no walls, every hit looks and feels different.

“After the first practice, we knew balls would not be very pretty,” Morris said. “It was more just hold onto the ‘next ball’ mentality.”

Playing outdoors wasn’t as big a challenge for some of the Wildcats who have played beach volleyball for WSC. They’d played outside before and understood the differences.

However, Wayne State’s 17-player roster includes six freshmen and two transfers who hadn’t had those experiences, Morris said.

Being able to play volleyball in Memorial Stadium was a surreal feeling, she said.

“It was such a great opportunity to be part of something like this,” she said.

The next biggest event in her career may have been when Wayne State won the regional championship her senior year, she said.

“This was a different type of surreal,” Morris said with a smile. “There was a lot of joy.”

While Morris is a coach and wasn’t able to play in the match, because the team has an odd number on the roster, she got to warm up with the players, playing pepper and serving.

A lot of former players and teammates attended the match, in which WSC defeated rival University of Nebraska at Kearney in straight sets.

Morris said the last time the two teams met was in 2015, her senior season. Everyone got to play Aug. 30, which she said was fun.

“The team did a really nice job being where their feet are,” she said. “After the game, there were pictures and cameras.”

The match was before the marquee match between Nebraska Lincoln and Nebraska Omaha, but Morris said the environment was still incredible.

“It started to fill up toward the end,” she said.

Even reliving that moment has been cool, she said.

“Others don’t understand unless you’re from here,” Morris said. “This put Nebraska volleyball and volleyball in Nebraska on the map. There’s talent at every level.”

After the match, the Wildcats had dinner, stayed for a couple sets of the Lincoln/Omaha match and then headed to Omaha. They had to be on a plane at 5:30 the next morning to go to California for a tournament.

Morris said the Wayne State Foundation put on a pep rally for the team at the hotel, which was another fantastic event.

“So many people showed up,” she said.

Morris is the daughter of Jodi and the late John Hughes and granddaughter of Phil and Sally Wurst, all of Seward.