By Joe Rodgers
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Kansas State senior outside hitter Lilla Porubek has been playing volleyball since she was six years old. She spent her early years around the sport since her mother, Virag Nyari, was a professional volleyball player in Europe for over 20 years.
Porubek, a native of Hungary, quickly learned the fundamentals of volleyball by attending Nyari’s practices in Hungary and France. By the time she was 10 years old, Porubek was playing competitively in her hometown of Budapest.
“I understood the game just by watching my mom’s practice,” Porubek said. “Her coach would toss me some balls after practice and provided me with ways to improve my game.”
As a teenager, Porubek dominated the competition as a member the Vasas Sport Volleyball Club in Budapest, compiling a reputation as a fierce striker with unmatched vision and skill. She quickly became one of the best young volleyball players in Hungary and was selected as a member of the Hungarian Junior National Team in 2009.
“There was great competition growing up,” Porubek said. “I surrounded myself with great friends and teammates who turned me into the player that I am today.”
Porubek was faced with a tough decision; stay in Hungary and become a professional volleyball player or move over 5,000 miles to the United States and become a Division I student-athlete.
Porubek decided on the latter, choosing Kansas State over South Carolina and New Orleans. Her decision was greatly influenced by her mother’s beach partner, Vali Hejjas, a former Wildcat volleyball player herself.
“Vali is the reason I came to K-State,” Porubek said. “She got in touch with coach Fritz and was telling coach all about me and my game.”
Hejjas graduated from K-State in 2006 and left in third place in school history with a kills per game average of 3.72. She was an All-American in 2004 and became only the fourth Wildcat to post 30 kills in a single match.
As a freshman, Porubek missed the first 10 games of the season because she was leading her Hungarian National Team to a fifth-place finish at the 2009 European Junior Championship in Amsterdam. It didn’t take long however to get acquainted with the coaches and her teammates, who made her transition to the U.S. a painless one.
“Coach [Suzie] Fritz is such a great coach, but also a wonderful person,” Porubek said. “She can make everything better just by the way she handles herself and puts her players’ first.”
Porubek had her breakout season in 2011. As a sophomore, she recorded a career-high 26 kills in a win versus Kansas to close out the regular season. She also finished the season ranked eighth all-time for the Wildcats with 124 games played. She finished the year being named to the All-Big 12 Team after she ranked seventh in the conference in kills per set with 3.39.
“When the ball is in the air and I am going up for a kill, I have less than a second to survey the defense to find an opening,” Porubek said. “My teammates do a great job passing it to me and I just try to get my feet to the set and make a play.”
Porubek’s proudest collegiate moment also came in 2011 when K-State beat then No. 2 Nebraska in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Lincoln, Neb. The Wildcats knocked off their former Big 12 rival in five sets, marking the highest ranked team the squad has ever defeated.
“That was a really big moment for all of us,” Porubek said. “To go into Lincoln and upset the Cornhuskers in the NCAA Tournament and make it to the Sweet 16 is something I will remember forever.”
Porubek was recently named the Arkansas Invitational MVP on Sept. 21, after she registered 15 kills, eight digs and two aces in the team’s 3-1 (25-19, 25-11, 20-25, 29-27) win over Saint Louis.
“Lilla plays with so much experience,” Fritz said. “She takes smart swings and sees things at such a high level. She plays like a really experienced player, like a senior should. That’s what we need from her.”
Porubek enters her final season looking to join fellow senior, Kaitlynn Pelger, in the school’s 1,000-kill club. She began the 2013 Big 12 schedule with 904 career kills.
“Lilla is a very smart player, she uses her power when necessary, but she also understands how to use her experience and range to create kills,” redshirt freshman setter Katie Brand said.
Porubek, an economics major and French minor, has been named to the Academic All-Big 12 First Team for two straight years helping the Wildcats secure the most academic all-conference first team selections in Big 12 history.
“Besides being great on the court, I am constantly impressed by Lilla off the court” Brand said. “I couldn’t imagine going to school in a different country that speaks a different language, but she handles it beautifully.”