September 9, 2013
By Kelly McHugh
In a heated Ahearn Field House, K-State volleyball recorded three sweeps in a row to win the K-State Invitational this past weekend.
Its wins over Southeast Missouri State, Southern Illinois and Siena put the Wildcats at a perfect 6-0 this season, and through solid performances from players like redshirt freshman Katie Brand and seniors Kaitlynn Pelger and Dakota Kaufman, fans had their first opportunity to check out the 2013 squad at home in action.
After sitting on the sidelines as a redshirt last season, Brand is now turning heads on the court and was chosen as the K-State Invitational MVP.
"It feels amazing," Brand said about getting tournament MVP, "but I think more than anything I feel great about how we played as a team and I think that's what I'm looking forward to the most (this season)."
With potential to become one of the greatest setters in K-State volleyball history, Brand's performance in the three matches was nearly flawless. On Friday, against Southeast Missouri State and Southern Illinois, Brand recorded 40 and 31 assists, respectively, and then on Saturday against Siena, Brand recorded 27 assists. She accounted for 98 of the team's 123 total assists in the tournament, and she said was happy to be on the court playing in front of the dedicated Wildcat fans for the first time.
"Last year I got to sit back and watch it all and watch how crazy the fans were and how the team fed off of that," Brand said, "so actually getting to be in that this year, play with them, it's amazing. I just love the fans and I'm so grateful for all of them that come out, especially in the heat."
K-State head coach Suzie Fritz also recognizes the impact Brand has had on the team so far, and said she looks forward to the games to come with the new setter.
"She gets better with every opportunity," Fritz said. "She gets smarter, she makes better decisions and she puts her hitters in better situations. Every single time out she has gotten better and better."
When it came to kills during the tournament, Kaufman led the way with a total of 27 (11 vs. Southeast Missouri State, 11 vs. Southern Illinois and 5 vs. Siena) while Pelger wasn't far behind, finishing the tournament with 25 (10 vs. Southeast Missouri State, 7 vs. Southern Illinois and 8 vs. Siena). The two were named to the K-State Invitational All-Tournament team along with Southeast Missouri State's Colleen Yarber and Emily Coon, Southern Illinois' Jessica Whitehead and Siena's Rachel Stoklosa.
While the temperatures both inside and out of Ahearn Field House felt to be in the low 100's on Friday and Saturday afternoon, K-State made the most of its ability to compete in the heat.
"There are some competitive advantages especially when you get games that go long because we're used to practicing in (the heat) for two hours," Fritz said about the heat. "So it's a tough environment, but I also want to say how much I appreciate the people who came out and sat through it. The people came out and still supported us and we appreciate that so much. We know it's a difficult environment to play in, but it's also a difficult environment to be a fan in and we just appreciate it so much that they're here to support us."
Luckily for the Wildcats (and their fans) K-State got the job done quickly and swept each game playing only three sets in each.
"It's definitely a lot easier when you're only taking three," Brand said. "Playing in the heat, you get a little bit more fatigued at the end, but I think we played through it really well. We train in it every day, we're used to it, so it's a lot harder for the other teams that have to come in and play against us."
Kauffman agreed taking each game in three sets was a positive for her team.
"It felt really good because in the last tournament that we played in, every match went to five games," Kauffman explained, "so we wanted to try to sweep everyone because it is really, really hot in Ahearn. One of our goals was to play the best that we can and if we got them in three, then so be it. We just wanted to play very consistent throughout the tournament."
K-State's next game is against the University of Tulsa tomorrow evening at 6 pm in Ahearn Field House. The Tulsa Golden Hurricanes are 6-1 so far this season, and have wins recorded this year over Baylor and Mississippi State.
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.