Texas A&M 6-2 middle blocker Kaitlyn Blake (Allen, Texas) has applied for a medical exemption from the Southeastern Conference and will forego her senior season, Aggie head coach Laura “Bird” Kuhn announced. Blake suffers from chronic pain in her lower legs caused by compartment syndrome, a condition she has endured since high school.
“It's something that started mainly since the beginning of high school,” Blake explained. “We really never knew what it was until I came here and got it diagnosed. I played through it for the past three years and just thought maybe if I had a little bit of time off, maybe it would help, but I guess it really wasn't my time. I think it is time for me to be done, time for me to turn in my jersey.”
After seeing limited playing time as a freshman while backing up two experienced middle blockers, Blake’s breakout season came in 2016 when she started every match and played in all 108 sets. The sophomore went on to earn AVCA Honorable Mention All-America and All-SEC accolades after ranking seventh in the nation and leading the conference with 1.52 blocks per set. Blake also led the SEC, was 15th in the nation and ranked fourth in the A&M all-time season records with 164 total blocks. In addition, her 145 blocks assists tied for third in the A&M season records, only nine short of the all-time record.
Following her sophomore season, Blake underwent surgery in an attempt to relieve the pain associated with compartment syndrome, and she sat out the spring training season. Blake returned to play for her junior season but her practice time and jump numbers were limited and closely monitored as she remained in constant pain. Despite the discomfort, Blake appeared in all 25 matches and led the Aggies with a .294 hitting efficiency for the full season and a .272 hitting percentage in SEC matches. She also led or tied for the team lead in blocks in a team-high eight matches and averaged 0.87 blocks per set for the full season and 0.89 blocks per set in SEC matches only.
“Blake has obviously been a huge impact on this program over the course of the last three years,” said Kuhn, who was named the Aggies’ head coach in December. “We had watched film of some matches to see the players returning, and she also was an impact player in the SEC. We talked to other SEC coaches, and there were coaches that said she was probably one of their favorite middles in the league.
“Coming in, I talked to her a lot on the phone and knew she was kind of on the fence on whether or not she would really be able to play. It was good to be able to build that relationship with her in the spring and work through that decision-making process. We were very supportive of her as a staff because we knew she had to be all in, and she had to know that we would support her in whatever the decision was and make sure she was healthy as she could be.”
Although Blake admits she will miss competing for the Aggies, she looks forward to staying involved with the team in a different capacity.
“The competiveness and the athlete inside of me is going to miss the competition and miss playing with the girls one last time. That is going to be the hardest part,” Blake said. “But I'm definitely going to be around and helping out. So I'm excited to be with the girls one last time even if it's not playing. I’m excited to see how well the girls do and see how we progress, how we grow and how we learn even though we are a young team.”
Kuhn added, “Obviously it's a loss, but it has been huge to have Blake around the gym. She will still be around the program, so for the youth of our middles, it has been good to have her there. It has been cool to see her connecting with them still and really being invested.”
Blake, who is majoring in agricultural leadership with minors in psychology and sports management, expects to graduate in December. She plans on pursuing a master’s degree and is considering going into coaching.