Youthful Experience in K-State Volleyball Camp

Kaitlynn Pelger

Aug. 11, 2011

By Mark Janssen - K-State Sports Extra

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Youthful experience may seem to be an oxymoron, but in the case of the 2011 Kansas State volleyball team, it makes perfect sense.

On a roster of 15 that reported Monday and is now into practice, there are no seniors and only four juniors – Caitlyn Donahue, Kathleen Ludwig, Ashley Kelican and Alex Muff – with Big 12 experience.

“What we do have are young players like Kaitlynn Pelger, Tristan McCarty, Lilla Porubek and Dakota Kaufman who have significant experience,” said K-State Suzie Fritz of four sophomores that logged time in no fewer than 88 games last year. “They might be young in age, but they have some good experience at the Big 12 level.”

Entering her 11th season as head coach of the Wildcats, Fritz has nothing but praise for the summer of work from her 2011 team.

“More than any team I can remember, this team seems committed as far as time put in with our strength and conditioning coach, and a lot of gym time that was organized with the upperclassmen,” said Fritz. “I promise you, there is not another volleyball team in America that out-worked us this summer.”

Fritz continued, “I’m pleased with the unified commitment of the team. I can’t really speak of leadership yet, but with what they were willing to do during the summer leads me to believe that it’s a very committed group.”

Helping fuel the team is the fact that it is coming off a sub-par Big 12 season and a 12-19 year overall in 2010.

Returning front-line starters from last year will be Donahue at setter, McCarty as a defensive specialist/libero, Muff and Pelger at middle blocker, plus Kaufman, Ludwig and Porubek at outside hitters. Pelger enters the season as a Preseason All-Big 12 selection.

Of her middle blockers, Fritz said, “Pelger was on the Big 12’s All-Freshman team and Alex has a chance to be one of the best middle blockers we’ve ever had.”

Depth is expected to come from Kelican at setter; freshman Taylor Johnson and Pratt Community College transfer Natali Jones at middle blocker; Chelsea Keating, Courtney Cook and Courtney Traxson as outside hitters; plus newcomers Gina Madonia and Kuulei Kabalis as a defensive specialist/libero.

“We need to find some terminal hitters outside,” said Fritz. “We need three or four that will be reliable.”

With the experience from last year, Fritz said, “Volleyball is very random where no two plays are alike. Elite athletes talk about the game slowing down through experience, so I hope we have the game slow down for some of the players we had last year.”

Fritz said the early-season goals for the team would be to stabilize the serve and receive portion of the game, and develop better play in “first contact” with passing on offense and digging on defense.

Athletically, Fritz says of the team, “As a coach, you never feel your team is big enough, strong enough, or fast enough. While we’re trying to become as athletic as we want to be, we need to make up for some things through coaching better, playing smarter and making sure our systems are tight. We’re athletic, but we’re not in the top three in the league.”

Where the Wildcats do rank high is in team makeup.

“This is a very cohesive group with good chemistry. It’s a likeable group in that they seem to want to get better, they make good grades and are just terrific young people. It’s been a low-maintenance group that is still working on becoming a good volleyball team.”

• K-State will play its Purple-White game on Aug. 20 at 7 p.m. in Ahearn Field House.
• The roster of 15 includes nine Kansans.
• New to the team this fall are Kuulei Kabalis, a native of Hilo, Hawaii, and transfer from Western Nebraska. Kabalis is a Libero. Also a Libero is freshman Gina Madonia from Wheaton, Ill.  Madonia has played on the prestigious AAU Team Sports Performance squad since she was a 12-year-old.
• K-State opens its year at the Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic where it will join a field of Louisville, Tennessee Tech and the host school on Aug. 26-27.
• The Wildcats first home match will be Aug. 30 against Creighton, followed by the Varney’s Invitational on Sept. 2-3 with a field of Idaho, BYU and Georgia Southern.
• With the loss of Nebraska and Colorado, the Big 12 will include nine teams (Oklahoma State does not have a team) playing a home-and-away schedule.  Fritz said she hopes to add Nebraska back to the schedule as a non-conference match in the near future, but will not play the perennial national powerhouse this year.

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