Wittenberg volleyball coach Paco Labrador used a football analogy when he likened freshman setter Karen Wildemann to a quarterback on the court.
The role in which Labrador used Wildemann during the second half of the season, however, could be compared to a baseball position: relief pitcher. Or, more specifically, a closer.
After beginning her college career as a starter, the Columbus North graduate began to come off the bench in the second half of the season for the Tigers, who went 29-3 and made it all the way to the NCAA Division III Tournament title game.
While she wasn’t starting, Wildemann did finish a lot of those matches.
“I definitely felt like I was able to make a contribution because the coach would put me in at the critical time of the game, and he put me in when I could finish the game out,” Wildemann said. “I still felt like I was really needed on the team.”
Despite playing in only 88 of the team’s 113 sets, Wildemann led Wittenberg with 426 assists.
“It’s not surprising, because she comes from a really good, trained background,” Labrador said. “She had to do a lot for her high school team for them to be as good as they were, and she comes from an elite-level club team (Circle City), so I knew she was going to be college ready. She was very prepared for the speed of the game.”
Labrador employed a 6-2 offense, meaning two setters were on the court almost all the time.
“Setters have to command their court, and she’s a good quarterback,” Labrador said. “She leads the offense in a very capable way. She’s also a very physically strong player. Her ability to set the ball from one corner of the court to the other corner of the court is never in question. And she’s pretty aggressive.”
The 5-foot-8 Wildemann pounded 22 kills and ranked third on the team with a .367 hitting percentage. She also was fifth on the squad with 129 digs and 19 aces.
“She’s a little bit taller and pretty strong at the net and can play front row, as well as back row,” Labrador said. “When we run out of subs, Karen can go in the front row and do just fine.”
Labrador said one of the things Wildemann does well is infuse energy into the team. He said she is very confident, a great leader with great presence on the court and a very cerebral player.
This fall, Wildemann would often sit down with Labrador and break down film on opponents and help put together game plans.
“I think the big difference (from high school) is, we scouted a lot more in college and watched a lot of film, as opposed to just having two-hour practices,” Wildemann said. “It definitely was a lot more time consuming, and it got a lot more serious.”
Wildemann also was a swimmer in high school, so she’s getting used to not being in the water every day at this time of year.
“It’s weird, because this was the first time I haven’t swam on Thanksgiving,” Wildemann said. “I’ll probably still swim to stay in shape, so I’ll still be in the water, but it’s going to be weird to not compete in meets.”
Last year’s valedictorian at North, Wildemann thinks she has all A’s as finals draw near in her first semester at the Springfield, Ohio, school. She is a biology major and wants to be optometrist.
“It has been an awesome experience,” Wildemann said. “I love the team at Wittenberg, and I feel like I’m at home there.”
Wildemann is hoping the Tigers can win a national championship while she’s there and make it back to the Elite Eight every year — even if it means coming off the bench and playing a relief role again.
“It was definitely different than what it was before, so it let me sit back and say, ‘This is what coach thinks is best for the team,'” Wildemann said. “It was hard, but all of my teammates were there for me through it all, and everyone was very supportive. I wanted to do what was best for the team.”
Name: Karen Wildemann
High school: Columbus North
Key stats: Led team with 426 assists; also had 22 kills, 129 digs and 19 aces.