*Also check out K-State Men's Golf head coach Tim Norris Announces Retirement
August 19, 2013
By Kelly McHugh
On the volleyball court, the relationship between the setter and middle blocker is crucial to a team's success.
That was proven last year as one of the best setters in K-State history, former Wildcat Caitlyn Donahue, paired with All-America performances from senior Kaitlynn Pelger to lead their team to a 2012 record of 21-9 and make K-State's 14th NCAA Tournament appearance.
This year, with Donahue gone, Pelger will look to redshirt freshman setter Katie Brand to fill in the gaps.
"It's always tough (replacing a setter), but Katie's come in and she's worked extremely hard," Pelger said. "She's one of the best setters that K-State's ever had. She wants to get the perfect set for everyone every single time, and I'm extremely excited for everyone to see all the hard work that she's put in for a year. I'm excited to work with her for my last season."
Both Pelger and Brand earned preseason mentions - Pelger was a unanimous selection for the Preseason All-Big 12 team, and Brand was named as the league's co-Freshman of the Year.
While head coach Suzie Fritz doesn't put a lot of merit to preseason polls and believes that the real successes comes on the court during the season, she said she believes both Pelger and Brand deserved their preseason nods.
"The reason Kaitlyn gets those awards are because of what she's been able to do in the past," Fritz said. "I think she deserves those opportunities. She's earned that recognition, and I'm proud of her for that, but she needs to have a good senior year. She needs to be player that can put us on her back and carry a significant load just like she's done in the past, and I think that's going to be her expectations.
"Katie is a redshirt freshman for us, but she will be a setter, which will naturally put her in a leadership position. So I think the other coaches in the league identify that she's going to have an important role in our team. I'm proud of Katie. I recognize the importance of her role and I think that the other coaches in the league do as well, but I think she's going to have a significant amount to do with what we have."
After her redshirt year sitting on the sidelines on gameday, Brand is ready to support her team on gamedays on the court.
"I'm so ready. Sitting out a whole year, I feel like I didn't lose any experience because I got to watch a great team, I got to watch them all compete every day, but I never got the actual experience of getting in the game, fighting for every point," Brand explained.
As K-State's first Preseason Big 12 Freshman of the Year, the expectations for Brand are set pretty high, however she doesn't let them get to her. She looks at those expectations and uses them as goals, as a bar that she is working to reach and surpass. After training with Donahue last season, Brand knows what it takes to become a K-State great.
"I just look at trying to improve day to day," Brand said. "I'm looking at those expectations as a goal and trying to improve. Caitlyn Donahue taught me a lot. She taught me during practice by teaching me just the different ways that K-State runs their setters, but she also taught me by just watching her on the court. I really got to watch her do her thing and it helped me to put that into gear for me too."
For Pelger, the excitement of getting back on the court for her last season as a Wildcat has quickly set in.
"It's so surreal," Pelger said standing on her home court and glancing around an empty Ahern Field House. "It's my fourth season, and I'm super excited to get on the court and show what we've been working for for the past six or seven months."
In July, K-State Volleyball represented Team USA in the World University Games in Kazan, Russia. It was an experience the team used to grow both on and off the court before their 2013 campaign kicks off, and for Pelger and Brand, it was an opportunity to work together and prepare for in-game situations.
"I think having the coaches in there talking about the relationships that we want with all of our hitters," Pelger said, "specifically Katie and I, I think that we were able to get out the kinks a little earlier and I think that it's been really great."
For Brand, the on-court experience helped prepare her for the season as well as grow her relationship with Pelger.
"In practice you can develop to a certain extent, but when you're on the court competing together it becomes its own unique chemistry bond out there," Brand explained. "Our Russia trip made a huge impact on how we are really starting to put it together. That trip really accelerated the process."
You can catch a glimpse of both Pelger and Brand and the entire 2013 K-State Volleyball squad during its Purple-White scrimmage on Thursday, Aug. 22 at 7 pm in Ahern Field House.
We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact Kelly McHugh, Mark Janssen or K-State Assistant AD for Communications Kenny Lannou.