By Chris Jung
PART 2 IN A 3-PART ARC
LOUISVILLE – By the time George, a co-captain for the Cards, was back in Louisville from her NYC experience, it was August 12. Louisville’s first volleyball team meeting was scheduled for August 13.
“I had two big Louisville volleyball duffel bags that I traveled with and lived out of during my internship, and those duffle bags stayed packed until October or November because I just never got around to unpacking,” George said. “I transitioned from being so busy (in NYC and Europe) to being even busier in-season.”
Despite George’s insane schedule, she says Louisville coach Anne Kordes never flinched throughout the entire summer.
“I think it shows a lot of (her) trust in me and in our relationship that (Kordes) knew I wasn’t going to go up to New York for six weeks and let myself go. That would be pretty nerve wracking for a coach to let her starting setter go for that long and then boom, be back right before the season is getting ready to start,” George said. “But she’s such a great person and she pushes you to make strides in your career, because she knows that ultimately that is the next step after volleyball. Her network is huge because she knows so many people, so being a player under her is huge, and she makes it available to us. Not all coaches would usually do that.”
George, who played for Anne Kordes’ father, Ron, at Assumption High School, originally committed to play college volleyball at Saint Louis University, where Anne Kordes was coaching at the time. George was never recruited by Louisville, so the Cardinals were never on her radar. But when word came down that Anne Kordes was considering the head coaching job at Louisville, things quickly changed.
A couple days after the rumor became official, Kordes called George into her new office on Louisville’s campus. It was the first time George would get a chance to see the U of L facilities.
“I got down there and saw everything, and where we would play, and I immediately got excited about the idea of playing for Louisville. (Kordes) offered me a spot that day and I transferred my commitment,” George said. “I really lucked into this position, and I say that all the time, but it’s worked out really well for me. You can’t write a better story for a college career.”
The Marketability of Katie George
Following George’s notable, medal-winning trip to Europe, her new-found international success, and a high-profile opportunity in the heart of the country’s media capitol, Louisville began ramping up its efforts to use the Louisville superstar in all possible marketing outlets and materials.
And whether it’s on Facebook posts, outdoor advertising, promotional literature, or even having George appear on screen for promos, or standing on dugouts as the hostess of U of L baseball games at Jim Patterson Stadium, it’s tough to miss George these days.
“I feel like everywhere you look you see me and sometimes I feel like I’m intruding on people and following them,” George said. “I’ll have people call me and say, ‘I just saw you behind Trinity (High School) on a billboard.’ And while I may not have seen it, I’m sure my mouth is wide open in a picture of me just screaming my lungs out (during a game). I feel like they can never get a picture of me without my mouth closed. They’re not the most flattering pictures, but what I’m so grateful for is that Louisville thinks that highly of me.
“Being a hometown person and player makes me very marketable, which I’m truly blessed about. If I had gone to Notre Dame or Michigan State, yes I would have had success in volleyball and probably even outside of volleyball, but I never would have gotten the publicity and the notoriety that I have in Louisville. The opportunities that Louisville has been able to provide me have been priceless.”
As a result of that marketability, requests for George are frequent, usually daily. And the Louisville junior doesn’t say no to any of them: “I’ll get an email asking me to come do an excerpt on alcohol abuse for the freshman orientation video, or a call wanting me to read off a teleprompter, and I’ll tell them, ‘Yeah, sure, I have 30 minutes before my next practice and then class, but I’ll be there.’ Every time I have an opportunity to represent the university and promote them in a positive way, I want to be able to do that because it’s my way of giving back for everything they’ve given to me. Anything you want me to promote or advertise, anything you want to put my face on, do it. And I really do think it’s so cool. I really like when people send me a Snapchat of my face on a poster or a Louisville volleyball magnet on their refrigerator that has me on it.”
Louisville fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon even took notice of George’s rising star and asked the volleyballer if they could sponsor her in the race for Homecoming Queen. George was unsure of what the process even meant or entailed, but blindly agreed because of her nature and desire to try new things. She instantly joined a list of previous, popular Louisville student-athletes like Kyle Kuric, Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Lorenzo Mauldin, who were up on the men’s side for Homecoming King.
“My approach as a student-athlete at Louisville is to use my sport as a springboard to get me where I want to go with my future career. And as a student-athlete, you have so many people around you who are willing to help you, and I think I recognize that fact more than others,” George said. “Because of the notoriety of our program and the athletic department at Louisville, I’m in a position to get out there and network and get my name out there to as many people as possible, because you never know down the road who’s going to be able to help you.”
George said she was bummed she didn’t win Homecoming Queen, but that “it was a great experience – another avenue, another opportunity to meet people.”
Social Media Madness
With her celebrity-athlete status has come a loyal following and fan base through social media portals. These days, George’s Instagram posts average roughly 500 “likes” and often a laundry list of comments from a variety of people that ranges from classmates to young fans.
“Volleyball is a hotbed in Louisville, so there are so many young women, young girls, who aspire to do what I do, and what my teammates do. So knowing there are so many girl that look up to us, and come to our games, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter, it’s so important to understand that we have an impact on these young girls’ lives,” George said. “I think that’s what I’ll take away the most from my experience at Louisville – the fact that I have impacted other girls for the better.”
So with a digital audience that is virtually faceless, does George feel pressure when using social media?
“I feel some pressure, but I wouldn’t characterize it as ‘a lot.’ I also characterize it as my responsibility,” George said. “I just think it’s so special that these girls look up to me. It’s not a burden. My favorite things are when I see Instagram comments that say, ‘Will you follow me back?’ or ‘You’re my role model,’ with role spelled R-O-L-L, and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh you guys are like 10 years old and you’re just the cutest.’ There are sometimes when I’ll want to post something on social media that is borderline inappropriate, but I have to remember how young some of my followers are. I walk a very fine line.
“With the position we have as a student-athlete, people are always looking for us to mess up, and I feel like I had that in high school, but now it’s just on a bigger scale. But the way I was raised, I don’t think I’ll ever be doing the wrong thing. Of course I make mistakes, but I don’t view it as pressure. If I did, I would see it in a negative way when it’s something I appreciate and am grateful for.”
Known for her parodies and self-deprecating sense of humor, George often takes to Twitter and Instagram to write the “Top Ten Reasons You Should Come to a Louisville Volleyball Game” or to post a relatively unflattering photo with an accompanying caption that takes shots at herself.
“I value humor so much and take pride in the fact that I can make people laugh so much and so consistently. I want to be funny for my coaches, for my teammates,” George said. “But on social media (that humor) can be construed as conceded or all about yourself, especially when you post photos of yourself, but I like to spin it where I’m making fun of myself in the sport that I play. Ultimately though, at the end of the day, I want to be that role model – R-O-L-L – that these little girls need me to be.”
PART 3 CONTINUES TOMORROW