For Ridgewood’s Natasa Papulic, a change to outside hitter this summer made everything click.
The Rebels girls volleyball team has won six matches as of Sunday, which is more than each of the last two seasons. Papulic’s team-leading 47 kills, along with 54 digs and 47 serves, has been a big reason for the team’s success, as has the senior’s leadership.
Last year as a middle hitter, Papulic registered 75 kills but her attitude was different. Ridgewood coach David Wlodarczyk said that Papulic played at 70 percent at times and took points off. Papulic said that mistakes in matches would rattle her.
While playing with Chicago’s Powerhouse Volleyball Club and attending camps with Ridgewood this summer, the 5-10 Papulic moved to outside hitter. Though she’s had to improve her timing and passing skills, the shift was a successful one.
“I wanted a change,” Papulic said. “When I was playing I wasn’t happy, and when I switched to outside my whole attitude just changed. I was so happy on the court and talking, being a leader.”
Papulic said she wanted to challenge herself in her final year and make the most of the season. She became a captain. She’s more optimistic, she encourages teammates and brings energy, and she shakes off her own mistakes better.
“She’s just a lot more positive and a lot more confident in her play, with everybody else, too,” senior libero and fellow captain Marzena Mistarz said.
Wlodarczyk said that Papulic is integral to Ridgewood. He said she’s involved in 90 percent of the team’s plays and contributes on defense with her passing and serve receive. If Papulic ever misses a match — like she did Saturday when she missed the first three matches of the Lakes tournament to take the ACT — Wlodarczyk struggles to find another option.
“Replacing her in matches, I can’t do it,” Wlodarczyk said. “I’m trying to find somebody, I don’t know what to do. When you’re trying to replace somebody that has 10 kills or 12 kills and is your primary passer and serves and is your captain with the leadership on the floor, she’s irreplaceable.”
Papulic’s attitude and play have flourished, and colleges are scouting her, according to Wlodarczyk. Papulic said she’s always wanted to play for Illinois-Chicago. As the Rebels continue to win and as Papulic enjoys her final season, she views the position switch as a pivotal decision.
“It was a big change for me,” Papulic said. “In the beginning, I was so lost and I had no idea. But I got better as time went on and I love it now. I just love playing as an outside hitter and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”