Former New Berlin West setter leads UW-Oshkosh to Final Four
For Vara, team chemistry stood out
New Berlin — Katelyn Vara did not choose chemistry as one of her main fields of study at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, but she certainly majored in it while on the volleyball courts.
Vara, a former New Berlin West standout, was the setter for an Oshkosh women's team that made it all the way to the NCAA Division III Final Four Tournament in University Heights, Ohio, in late November.
The Titans ultimately lost to top-rated Juniata College of Pennsylvania, 25-23, 25-18, 26-24, in the semifinal round and finished tied for third place in the country with a 39-3 dual record.
As the setter, or the player responsible for directing the offense, Vara played a key role for the Titans. She finished with 1,478 assists, which was more than 1,300 more than anyone else on the team, and averaged a sparkling 10.63 assists per game.
"Her competitiveness stood out, and her athleticism," Oshkosh coach Brian Schaefer said. "Other coaches kept telling me that our setter was amazing, and one said she is the best setter he had seen."
Yet, Vara is well aware that she was also just one part of what was a well-oiled unit, and added that team chemistry was the main factor behind all of Oshkosh's success this season.
"With female sports teams, you need the talent, but you really need that chemistry among the players," said the senior. "With men's teams, talent can sometimes be above chemistry, but it was our chemistry that brought us through."
That chemistry is created not just on the court, but especially off the court, Vara said, as the players were all particularly close.
"When we would come home from a weekend tournament on Saturday night, which was our opportunity to get away from volleyball, the majority of us would be hanging out together anyway," she said. "We went out on the town, to parties or to movies, or we would just sit and talk about volleyball - or not talk about volleyball."
That camaraderie made the Titans a truly unified team. "It is easier to be excited about playing alongside someone when you care about them as a person," Vara said. "It helps when you are on each other's side. We all enjoyed each other's company."
Team full of honors
The Titans players also enjoyed sharing in each other's successes.
Vara was an honorable-mention all-American this season as well as first-team all-Midwest Region and first-team all-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, but she took just as much pride in the honors garnered by her Oshkosh teammates.
"It's fun to get the individual awards," she said, "but what was really neat was that we had five All-Americans on our team this year, and we had both the (conference) player of the year and rookie of the year."
Oshkosh also had the Division III National Player of the Year in junior libero Christina Cahoon of Watertown, a two-time first-team All-American.
"I know I wouldn't have won my awards without the other players, and they wouldn't have won theirs without me," she continued. "That's what makes volleyball a great sport. No one specific player can do it alone."
Vara was on the varsity team at Oshkosh all four years, becoming a starter in her junior season. "She's only 5 feet 6 inches," Schaefer said, "but her vertical leap more than makes up for that. Also, she worked really hard and spent a lot of extra time in the gym."
Interestingly, Vara is relatively new to volleyball, having started the year before high school. "I had been a gymnast for 12 years, but then I had a major injury," she recalled. "Going into high school, I had the decision whether to continue with gymnastics or move on. I love all team sports, and I chose to pick up volleyball."
Coach Schaefer, her teammates and anyone else associated with the Oshkosh program are all glad she did.
KATELYN VARA FILE
WHO: Katelyn Vara, former New Berlin West standout and senior setter on the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh women's volleyball team
WHAT: Vara helped the Titans post a 39-3 dual mark and advance to the NCAA Division III Final Four Tournament in Ohio in November. Oshkosh fell to Juniata College of Pennsylvania in the semifinal match despite 29 assists and five digs from Vara. The Titans downed Christopher Newport University of Virginia, 21-25, 25-13, 25-14, 25-21, in the quarterfinal behind 38 assists, six digs and four kills by Vara. They beat St. Thomas of Minnesota, 17-25, 25-19, 25-20, 25-15, in the regional final as Vara collected 40 assists, 15 digs, six kills and three blocks. Oshkosh topped UW-Eau Claire, 25-16, 25-16, 22-25, 25-23, in the second round of play as Vara tallied 44 assists, 11 digs, seven blocks and five kills and St. Norbert College, 25-9, 25-8, 25-11, in the first round behind 42 assists and 13 digs by Vara.
STATISTICS, HONORS: Vara compiled 1,478 assists, an average of 10.63 per game, to go with 93 kills (a .250 hitting percentage), 12 service aces, 326 digs and 77 blocks. She was honorable-mention All-American, first-team all-Midwest Region and first-team all-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. She was also a four-year letter-winner at Oshkosh.
ACADEMICS: She plans to graduate next year with a triple major of math, physics and biomechanical engineering and plans on a career in engineering, perhaps building and designing artificial limbs.
HIGH SCHOOL: She graduated from West in 2006 and played on the Vikings' varsity volleyball team three years as a setter, earning all-Woodland Conference first-team honors.
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