Throwback Thursday: Dani Wittman
Sept. 15, 2011
LAWRENCE, Kan. -
Dani Wittman (Volleyball, 2003-06)
Salina, Kan., native Dani Wittman was a defensive specialist/libero for Coach Ray Bechard and the Jayhawk volleyball team during one of its most successful runs in program history. During that stretch of time, Wittman helped lead KU to the NCAA tournament for three consecutive seasons. Wittman still lives in Lawrence and keeps in close contact with her former teammates and coaches. She has also decided to back to school and is currently working on her nursing degree, which she will finish up in December.
Why did you choose to come to KU and play volleyball?
"I went to Kansas volleyball camps beginning in seventh grade and I always loved Lawrence and the University. Any time you are around someone from KU - whether they're a fan, an alum or a current student - they're always so proud to be a Jayhawk. I think that's something I picked up right away throughout my recruiting process. Everyone, including the coaches and the trainers, was so proud to be working for Kansas. That came through on recruiting trips and definitely resonated with me. I wanted to feel that same way when I went to college. That's what attracted me most to KU, the pride that came with being a Jayhawk."
Do you have most memorable moment during your playing career?
"I have a few, but one that I definitely remember was my junior year at Kansas State. We were there for conference play and we had never beaten K-State in Manhattan. We went to five sets with them and ended up winning. I am from Salina, where most people go to Kansas State, so every time K-State came up on the calendar I circled it because I wanted to beat them. They were our in-state rivals, so it was a really big deal and the highlight of my career to beat K-State in Manhattan.
Speaking of Salina, you were a four-year letterwinner in three different sports at Sacred Heart High School there. Why did you choose volleyball and when did you realize you might be able to play at the college level?
"My mom was and still is the volleyball coach at my high school, so I grew up around volleyball. I went to a smaller Catholic school, so if you are athletic enough you can play every sport. I was happy to play basketball and softball, but when I was in eighth grade, I realized I definitely had more of an interest in volleyball than the other sports. I was in more competitive leagues that played club volleyball year-round, so once I made that commitment there was no turning back. To be a Division I athlete, you have to love the sport and be willing to put in extra time outside of high school volleyball. It definitely takes more of a commitment. When I realized I had a chance to play at the Division I level, my work ethic improved throughout high school and in the club season."
You were a part of three-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 2003-05. What was that experience like?
"That is something I am definitely proud of and being a part of those teams is without a doubt a highlight of my career. Sometimes I take it for granted, but nobody's ever done it before or since. My freshman year I kind of expected it because I thought, `We had a really good year, so the next thing that comes is the NCAA Tournament.' I didn't know anything else because from day one of preseason, you talk about getting to the NCAA Tournament. I was taken aback by how surprised and excited everybody was. We went out to Malibu, Calif. We made it to the second round, and it was an awesome experience. We thought, `We have to make it back again.' That became the standard. It was a set goal that we brought up every preseason and something we worked for throughout the season.
My sophomore year, we went out to Seattle, and we lost by three points to Washington in the second round. We were three points away from going to the Sweet 16! My junior year, we had a few injuries and thought we might not make it. Then our name popped up on the screen, so I was very fortunate to be a part of it for three years. When we didn't make it my senior year, it was just a punch in the stomach. It felt like a huge part of my senior year was missing because we didn't have a postseason. It's something that I had become accustomed to, but it's something that I will never forget.
How often do you keep in touch with your former coaches and teammates?
"I still live in Lawrence, so I have an added benefit of being able to see the coaches when I want to. I am still very close with coach (Ray) Bechard. I talk to (former assistant coaches) Christi Posey and Jill Jones-Stuckey very often. I had a really close relationship with all of the coaches before I got to KU, and I have always made it a point to stay in touch with them because they were my mentors for four years.
I am still really close with a lot of my teammates as well. Emily Brown and Savannah Noyes play overseas during the year, but they live here with me when they come back. I keep in close contact with a lot of my teammates. They were my 12 best friends for four years. My career ended, but that didn't mean the friendships went away."
What have you been doing since your playing career ended?
"I finished school at KU, took a year off and got a job. I got laid off, and then went back to nursing school at Baker. I will finish in December. I love it! It is what I have always wanted to do. I chose a different major while I was playing volleyball, but now I am in the field I originally wanted to be in. I am really happy, and I am excited to start my career."
What is it like being in school without playing volleyball?
"I have so much free time. It is definitely different because nursing school is very demanding. I go to class three days a week and I have clinical rotations the other two days. I am grateful I was a student-athlete before I came to nursing school because my time management was not something I had to figure out. Nursing school is difficult and a challenge. It is a good challenge, but it is definitely weird to not be in the weight room at 6 a.m., or getting done with practice at 6:30 p.m., before I go home to study, so it is just a different type of busy."
What advice do you give to the current Jayhawk volleyball players?
"I tell them all the time to live in the present and not take anything for granted. Be proud to be a member of the volleyball team. It only lasts for four years. Be proud to be a Jayhawk and don't ever settle. It goes by so fast, so enjoy every single minute you have with your team, including when you are on the road with them. I also tell them not to lose that competitive fire because you only have four years."
How excited are you to see the team currently 8-1 this season after beating No. 6 Minnesota?
I am ecstatic and it's awesome. I knew that they were going to be good because they did well last year and they were just missing a few pieces. It is definitely showing that they worked hard in the offseason and they have a great coaching staff. It is a really good, complete team, but the Big 12 is not going to be easy. That's why going 8-1, beating Minnesota and going to five sets against nationally-ranked Northern Iowa is a great way to start off the season. If they keep on working hard and getting better in these early season tournaments, I think they are going to do great."