SE: K-State VB to Host First Two Rounds of NCAA Tournament for First Time Since 2007

When K-State’s name was displayed next to the number 14 during the NCAA Volleyball Tournament Selection Show, it took a few seconds for the reality of the situation to set in. 

K-State was selected to not only play in the NCAA Tournament for the third-straight season but also as one of its top 16 seeds, meaning the Wildcats were chosen to host the first two rounds at Bramlage Coliseum.  

“I think we suspected we had a chance, but it took us a while to figure out, like, ‘That’s a Powercat on the board. We’re hosting.’ The room erupted and it was awesome,” said senior middle blocker Katie Reininger in the Steve & Kay Theede Club of the West Stadium Center, where the team watched the selection show. “It’s good to be at home. We get to sleep in our own beds, we get to be in Bramlage, we have our fans with us… nothing but exciting things await us.”

K-State will face Lipscomb in the first round on Friday at 7:30 p.m. A win would pit the Wildcats against either Ohio State or Missouri State on Saturday at 7 p.m.

“We were so excited,” said senior libero Kersten Kober. “It’s so nice to see your name up on the board. Seeing that we’re hosting is amazing, it’s probably one of the best feelings out there. We get to be at home, we get to be around our fans and we couldn’t ask for anything more.” 

This marks K-State’s first time hosting since 2007 and the sixth time in program history. What helped K-State, holding the 19th-best RPI in the country, to a hosting spot? Well, its strength of schedule certainly didn’t hurt.  

Of the Wildcats’ nine losses, five came against teams currently ranked in the top five nationally. Of the seven teams to beat K-State, all of them earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament and Baylor holds the worst RPI of the group at 41. 

K-State also holds two victories against teams (Hawaii, 13; Creighton, 21) ranked in the top 25 and six versus teams with a top-50 RPI rating.  

“I think we felt like our strength of schedule would hold up, that it would give us an opportunity, at minimum, if it was seen in the right light, but when you get down to this point, you’re just trying to control the variables that you can control,” said K-State head coach Suzie Fritz, now with 12 NCAA Tournament appearances as the Wildcats’ head coach. “I’m excited so much for this group of women. They’ve worked so hard to get to the postseason, but to be able to play the first two rounds at home, it’s a big deal.”

One Wildcat hit with an extra dose of excitement was freshman middle blocker Elle Sandbothe, whose sister, Taylor Sandbothe, is an All-American middle blocker for Ohio State. 

“Immediately my phone was blowing up,” the younger Sandbothe said, adding that they had what-if conversations about playing at the same site, only to come to the conclusion that it was highly unlikely. “It’s kind of like fate put us on the same court. It’s even cooler that they get to come to Manhattan. I’m insanely excited.”

K-State, making its fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in six years, finished the regular season 20-9, Fritz’s 11th season with at least 20 wins in 16 years as head coach. The Wildcats also went 9-7 in the Big 12, which had six of its 10 teams selected to the NCAA Tournament, to finish in a tie for fourth for the second-straight season. 

“I think being mentally tough will be key,” Reininger said of keys to postseason play. “Knowing that while these are teams we haven’t played before, we’re prepared for everybody we’re facing.”

Kober said confidence would be key as well. 

“We’ve won a lot of games,” she said. “We proved that we can be here and we just need to trust ourselves, trust our coaches, trust the process and be confident.”

Fritz agreed. 

“Confidence, feeling like you can play with anybody at this point and being healthy is a big part of being good late in the year when you go into the postseason, and I think we’re both right now,” she said. “We’re as confident as we’ve been, and I think our schedule, just in regards to our Big 12 Conference schedule and our preseason schedule, has prepared us. We’ve seen everything we need to see to be good and to be prepared for the tournament. I think we feel pretty good going into it.” 

Having a large contingent of K-State fans at the team’s back, Kober added, should only help. 

“I think it will be a huge advantage for us,” she said. “There’s nothing like playing at home. They get us going and they’re a big reason for our success here. That’ll be great.” 

Fans can pre-order all-session tickets — $15 for reserved, $10 for adult GA or $8 for youth GA — at this link. Tickets can also be purchased through the K-State Ticket Office by calling 1-800-221-CATS or in person at Bramlage Coliseum.