By: Megan Wilson
Big 12 Campus Correspondents
Recovering from an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament is one of the most challenging rehabs any athlete can endure.
The long and sometimes painful process can be frustrating and discouraging mixed with the frustration of watching your teammates compete while you sit. The drive to come back is fueled by the hope of returning as good as before and regaining a place on the team.
Rita Liliom, a senior outside hitter for the Kansas State volleyball squad, knows all about the hard truths of rehab and recovery. In the early months of the 2006 season, she tore the ACL in her left knee.
During that season, K-State missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995, finished out of the national rankings and placed 10th in the Big 12.
While her teammates moved forward without her, Liliom began the long road of recovery.
“You have to push yourself every single day to get back to where you were before,” Liliom said. “I think it was easier for me because I had my whole team behind me and I wanted so badly to play again. I told my trainer, ‘I don’t want to do less, I want to do more.'
"So I kept doing more and getting better. I had a lot of encouragement (from coaches and teammates) and I just kept pushing myself to get better.”
In 2007, Liliom was back with a vengeance. She finished the season with 438 kills, nearly 4 kills per game and almost twice her total from her sophomore season. Liliom's play helped K-State get back to the NCAA tournament and finish the season ranked 16th nationally.
She also had a career best performance when it mattered most, posting 27 kills and over a .400 hitting percentage in the NCAA tournament second round match against Oregon. Her kill total established a school record in a post-season five-game match.
Liliom hasn’t shown any sign of letting up during her senior campaign. She has earned Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week honors, been named the Varney’s Invitational Tournament’s Most Valuable Player, and leads the Big 12 in kills averaging 4.35 per set. Her kill average also ranks 15th in the nation, and she has posted at least 10 kills in every match this season.
“(My main goal is) winning a Big 12 Championship my senior season,” she said of aspirations. “Also, for me personally, I was a middle hitter when I got here, and I transitioned to outside hitter, so I just want to keep that position and play hard and be efficient and consistent all the time.”
The Budapest-native’s road to success has been a long one. Her journey involved leaving her friends and family behind in Hungary to pursue a sport she became involved in through pure chance.
“That’s a funny story,” said Liliom, when asked how she first became involved with volleyball. “We were couch potatoes, my sister and I, and my dad had a football (soccer) team and right next to the field was a gym and of course, there they were playing volleyball. My sister and I started playing and the coach liked how I played, and she put me on her team and I just kept playing.”
Liliom made the Hungarian Junior National team and competed in Spain in the 2003 Junior European Championships, and again in Poland for the 2003 Junior World Championships. The next step in her career was volleyball at a university in mid-America.
“Yes, it is difficult to be so far from home, especially after games," Liliom said. "My first encouragement always came from my family, so I miss having them there. I miss a lot of things from home. I miss the streets, my friends who are there, the food. Sometimes I struggle with that (missing them).”
With the help of her teammates and coaches, she has made a home in Manhattan.
“It’s a great college town, for sure. I love every single friend I have made here,” she said. “I’ve been here for four years, and I think I’ve made some great relationships with people. It’s a great opportunity to come here and experience having great friends from different countries.”
As her final season continues, Liliom hopes to help the Wildcats reach the NCAA tournament for the 12th time and to continue to embrace her role as a team leader.
“I love everything about K-State,” she said. “It was the biggest step for me, to come from Hungary. It was definitely new and I loved it. I’m really appreciative to all of my teammates and especially my coaches for getting me here from Hungary and for really coaching me."