KU sophomore Katie Dalton was born to play volleyball, so the particulars don’t really matter much.
She looks the part, lives the part, has the sport’s fiber running through her veins and has watched several family members play it at a high level, as well.
So, when it came time for Dalton to make a decision about what her thing would be in life, naturally, playing volleyball was way up at the top of the list.
From that point on, things were not nearly as easy, but Dalton’s work ethic, inner drive and love of the game have allowed her to push through the hard times, which included choosing a college, changing positions, fighting for playing time and more.
Today, as the 14th-ranked Jayhawks prepare for two huge road matches at Iowa State — 6:30 p.m. tonight and 3 p.m. Saturday — Dalton is playing some of the best volleyball of her life and loving every minute of it.
Recruited as a setter out of Chaparral High in Parker, Colorado, Dalton came to KU with a bit of a reputation.
“She comes from a volleyball family, and we knew she was gonna know how to play volleyball,” KU coach Ray Bechard told R1S1 Sports.
The sixth youngest in a group of seven siblings, Dalton, who stands 6-foot-1, watched her older sister, Nicole (6-2) star as a setter at Texas and also enjoyed watching sister Karlie (6-foot) play at Benedictine College and Julianna (6-5) have a big role at Pitt.
When it came time for her to commit to a school, she considered Texas, where Nicole last played in 2016.
“Yeah, that was one of my choices,” Dalton told R1S1 Sports. “But I kind of ended up wanting to do something different than she did.”
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A funny thing happened between then and Dalton coming to Kansas, though. Nicole actually wound up on the Jayhawks’ coaching staff in 2019, serving as a volunteer assistant.
While their time at KU never overlapped, it put the Jayhawks on her radar.
The next thing to land on her radar played a huge role in Dalton changing positions from setter to defensive specialist.
Her name was Camryn Turner.
“I was kind of a new setter,” Dalton said. “I mean, I played outside, right side and middle in high school. I came in and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Cam Turner’s a really good setter.’ She was a really good leader to me and I looked up to her. We just got along really well.”
She also dominated the minutes at setter while leading KU to NCAA Tournament wins in back to back seasons.
While Dalton loved everything about KU and her teammates, she wanted to play.
“I was kind of frustrated my freshman year,” she admits now. “I was like, ‘What can I do, what else can I do, coach?’”
The answer was easy: become a monster on defense.
While fighting to find her place, she talked with her family as much as possible about her next steps and found that worrying about the team above all else was her best path forward.
“All my sisters have played volleyball, so I think just talking to them about it, like, what do I do, how do I talk to the coaches, how can I make sure I’m still being a good teammate, really helped,” she said. “I kind of took my mind off myself and what I was doing and put more into the team and thinking about other people. I think that’s when I started playing my best, even being in a different position.”
Dalton still trains as a setter — for those times when KU wants to run a two-setter system and as a back-up to Turner — but she spends just as much time working as a DS in the back row.
As it turned out, it was a pretty perfect fit. Like so many of her sisters before, Dalton had natural abilities that served her well anywhere on the court.
“They saw me pass one ball and Coach B was like, ‘You can pass,’” Dalton said, laughing. “Just because I’m 6-1, people want to target me and things like that, but I’ve always loved passing. I think it’s a great position.”
So does Bechard.
“She’s another Swiss Army Knife,” he said. “She’ll pass and serve, she’ll play great right back defense, she’ll step in and set a ball. She could attack if we really needed her to. There’s just so many things about her versatility that have created great opportunities for her.”
While her size, athleticism and versatility throughout her life landed Dalton in a number of different spots on the court, she truly believes she’s found a home at DS.
That reality hit her last year, while playing perennial powerhouse Nebraska, at their place, during the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I was playing right back and I was like, ‘Wait, I can do this,’” she recalled. “And then it was, ‘OK. I’m kind of liking this.’ That’s when it clicked for me and I was like, I can be a good DS for this team.”
Dalton currently ranks fifth in the team with 134 digs and third with 51 assists from the setter spot. She’s also tied for third with 12 aces.
More important than any of that, though, is the fact that she’s playing, having appeared in 59 sets as the Jayhawks (18-4 overall, 9-3 Big 12) head into the homestretch of their season.
“It’s been crazy,” she said of her path to this point. “But I love this team. It’s awesome. This whole team is a joy to be around.”
That’s in large part because so many of her teammates have that same team-first, whatever-it-takes mindset that Dalton does.
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