As a general rule, Cleveland State coach Chuck Voss keeps distractions to a minimum during the first couple hours of a Cleveland State women’s bus road trip.
But sometimes loud music is the order of the day.
“It depends on the trip,” senior Grace Kauth said. “For the longer trips we’ll watch movies. A lot of us sleep. But we’ve been known to turn up the speaker on the bus and be obnoxious as possible with our dancing and singing. I know Chuck enjoys that.”
So what is Kauth’s specialty?
“I’m a pretty phenomenal dancer,” she deadpanned.
And Kauth, a 5-foot-11 outside hitter, has a pretty good case for being a phenomenal collegiate volleyball player.
She is the leading offensive player on a 22-4 team that leads the Horizon League with a 13-1 record, a full three games ahead of second-place Oakland. And the Vikings this week cracked the VolleyballMag.com Mid-Major Poll for the first time, coming in at No. 25.
Cleveland State, which has won 13 matches in a row, plays at Green Bay on Wednesday and Wright State on Friday to end the regular season. Then there’s a week off before starting the Horizon League tournament where the Vikings are the No. 1 seed. They have an NCAA RPI of 37, so while winning the Horizon tournament will ensure an NCAA Tournament bid it’s possible they could get an at-large.
Kauth is from Vandalia, Ohio, near Dayton. Her 354 kills is by far the most on the team — Alexis Middlebrooks has 261 — and Kauth leads Cleveland State with 3.65 kills per set while hitting .235. She’s second only to the libero with 275 digs, has 54 blocks, 23 service aces and 40 assists.
“She does everything for us,” said Voss, in his 17th season at the helm where he’s led the Vikings to the three Horizon League tournament titles.
“She’s a six-rotation outside and one of our best defensive players, if not the best. Grace does everything at an extremely high level. She’s the whole ball of wax. She’s mentally tough and physically dominant, quick and explosive.”
But it’s that mental toughness that Kauth says has taken her game up a few notches.
“My mental game is a lot stronger,” Kauth said. “I’m able to bounce back from mistakes and errors a lot quicker than I would have before.”
Voss also is impressed with the way Kauth has upped the ante with her blocking skills, which has brought a positive overall effect to the team.
“Her blocking has improved tremendously,” he said. “Before we felt like teams were attacking us on the right point and now we have two very good left-side blockers with Grace being very good. Now, teams try and go away from the pin.”
Six of Kauth’s blocks have been solos.
“All the teams we are going to play are going to come at us, so this allows other girls to be freed up,” Kauth said. “We have good right sides, middles and outside hitters. Our blocking has helped us defensively.”
As a senior Kauth is one of the Vikings’ team leaders, but not just because it’s her final year.
“Grace has been a leader for us since the first day she got here,” Voss said. “When she was a freshman, we had some injured older players and she had to carry more of the load than we would have liked. She’s a really good leader. Everybody looks to her as a calming influence whether it’s her peers in the senior class or all the younger players. Girls will go to her to talk She is one of my favorite players I’ve ever coached. We will certainly miss her.”
Kauth, twice a Horizon League first-team player, is a marketing major at Cleveland State, where she also has fashioned an impressive academic and student-involvement resume.
“Chuck has always placed a big emphasis on academics,” she said. “It’s not just being an athlete, but we are student-athletes. He makes sure we keep on top of the academic part.”
To wit, Kauth has a 3.88 grade-point average and was named the Horizon League female scholar-athlete of the fall and also is a two-time HL fall academic-team honoree. She’s made the CSU Dean’s List every semester she’s been at the school. And in addition to being named a senior CLASS award candidate, she the president of Cleveland State’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee for this school year.
“It’s a board of student-athletes at Cleveland State and we are the voice between the NCAA, student-athletes here and Cleveland State,” she said. “We keep student-athletes informed about what’s going on with the NCAA and how it affects us. We promote community service and make sure academics are a big part of our day-to-day lives. We make sure our experience here at Cleveland State is the best it can be.”
Kauth said being a student-athlete is about much more than practices and matches. “It’s very difficult balancing being a student and playing a college sport,” she said. “But it’s also as hard as you want to make it. The key is working ahead and making sure you are talking to your professors to stay on top of school work. It also makes it easier that I’m a senior and have gone from being a freshman to a sophomore and then a junior. You get used to it. Make sure you balance it and work with your professors and maintain a good relationship with them.”
But Kauth noted there is still plenty of time as a student-athlete for fun, especially during those road trips. Her two favorite stops on the Horizon League circuit are to UIC in Chicago and to Wright State in Dayton.
“Chicago was always fun because we used to have an hour or two to go shop on Michigan Ave.,” she said. “Wright State is fun because it’s near where I’m from and a lot of my family is able to come and watch.”
Kauth, who is engaged to be married to her high-school sweetheart, Tim Szabo, on May 26, 2018, hopes her play on the court will be an inspiration to younger teammates and future Vikings players.
“I’d like to be remembered as a two-time Horizon League champion, that would be nice,” she says. “We’ve all talked about how we want to be remembered here. For me, it’s someone who worked hard on and off the court and was a good friend to her teammates and someone the next generation of people who come in will want to work toward being like.”
Last year, the Vikings won the Horizon and got sent to Los Angeles for the NCAA Tournament, where they lost in the first round to USC in four sets. Kauth was the leader that day, too, with 15 kills.
“All the girls on this team work hard and are willing to come to practice and matches and bring it,” said Kauth, who ranks in the top 10 in Cleveland State career record books in six statistical categories.
“We have people willing to take the big swings down the stretch and serve the aggressive ball at key moments. We’re hungry. We got a title last year and we want another one. We’re all working toward that goal.”