By Mark Janssen
Alex Muff understands how Kansas State's volleyball team will be the underdog tonight in its 7 p.m. match against No. 3 Nebraska, but she also offers this warning.
"I just love the atmosphere of Ahearn (Field House)," said the K-State middle-blocker. "With the new curtain and the bleachers, it just seems like everyone is packed in and the atmosphere is what any team would want to have."
Winning is what the Muff family is used to in Ahearn Field House. Her father, Kevin, was a member of the Wildcat basketball teams of 1984-1986, which were coach Jack Hartman's final two seasons.
"It was after one of my first matches last year that he told me how it brought back some memories," Muff said of her father, who is now the head basketball coach at Pittsburg State University after a 12-year stay at Cloud County Community College in Concordia, Kan. "He thought it was cool that our team was now dressing in the exact same locker room area where his teams dressed."
K-State will need every advantage it can find as Nebraska owns the top spot in the Big 12 at 8-0 and is ranked No. 3 in the nation with a 16-1 record.
After losing to No. 13 Iowa State in three sets on Wednesday, K-State finds itself with a 3-5 Big 12 record and 9-10 mark overall.
"We talk every day in practice on how we have to work to be good when situations are not going our way," said the 6-foot-1 sophomore. "At the beginning of the year we talked about the mentality of no matter how many points we're down, we can come back and win this game. We've lost that somewhere along the way and we need to get it back. We need to get back to celebrating together when we're up, and work together when we're down."
The plan last fall was for Muff to redshirt, but about this point in the season, the scarlet shirt was pulled, and she saw time as a middle blocker for the rest of the year. Playing in 57 sets, Muff averaged 0.75 blocks per set and 1.25 kills. Her season-high was against Colorado with 11 kills, one error (hitting .435) and having two block assists.
"That experience was huge," said Muff, who today ranks fourth in the Big 12 in blocks at 1.29 per set. "Practice is so much different than games. That extra pressure you feel on the floor just can't be duplicated in practice."
Plus, Muff said being on the court with someone with the leadership qualities of Kelsey Chipman last year was a huge help.
"She's someone who played my position and I looked up to," said Muff, who chose K-State out of high school over Wichita State. "Her leadership was outstanding."
It was with the Shockers that Muff would have tried the two-sport double of volleyball and the multi-events in track and field. A 12-time letterman for Concordia High School in volleyball, basketball and track, Muff led her team to four straight Class 4A state track titles by running a leg on the 4 x 400 team to three gold medals and three state records, plus was a three-time champion in the 100-meter hurdles.
While K-State is young with 15 freshmen and sophomores on its 17-person roster, Muff said, "We're definitely playing for the present, but also with the understanding that with so many young players there is great hope for the future."
But for now, that future is at 7 tonight against the Big Red of Nebraska.