Kansas State hope the mix of six newcomers with three starters will continuetournament run
The Kansas State volleyball team has enjoyed a tremendous amount of successthe last seven seasons.
Seven consecutive seasons of at least 19 wins, including hitting the 20-winplateau in six of the last seven years.Seven consecutive postseason appearances, including a school-record sixstraight bids to the NCAA Tournament.Four consecutive appearances in the final AVCA/USA Today Top 25 poll. Theteam has also ended the year ranked in the organization?s Top 25 in five ofthe last six seasons.
In that span, Kansas State has produced three All-Americans ? Dawn Cadyand Liz Wegner (twice) ? five all-district selections and 14 All-Big 12honorees. In fact, eight of the 10 first team all-conference selections inschool history have come since 1996, including a pair of multiple honorees,Val Wieck and Liz Wegner. The success has endured through three differenthead coaches, first Jim Moore, then Jim McLaughlin and now, in hersecond-year,Suzie Fritz.
However, the success of the program ?like that of countless others ?has in part beensustained by its ability to adjust to the loss of its star players. Teamsin the past have found a way to alter their style of play to replace the nowlegendary stars of Ahearn Field House, names like Kate DeClerk, theWildcats? inaugural All-Big 12 selection and the first player to be named toan all-conference first team in eight years, to Val Wieck and Kim Zschau toDawn Cady and Kelle Branting.
The good news for the current Wildcats is that the team that had toreplace an impact player did better than the squad that included the player.The 1999 team that had to deal with the loss of Zschau and Wieck improvedboth their overall win total and ranking in the conference and nationally,while the 2000 squad advanced to the Sweet 16 after the departure of theschool's first All-American Dawn Cady.
Now the Wildcats must do the same in 2002, as the program has to adjustto loss of four-year starters, two-time All-American Liz Wegner and fellowall-conference selection Lisa Mimick. Wegner left the program, as arguablyits greatest player with over 20 school records to her credit, includingcareer marks for kills and total attacks. Mimick, a talented defensiveplayer with over 1,000 digs to her credit, was the one of the team'semotional leaders throughout her four-year career.
"We will not replace Liz, Lisa and Jayne (Christen), said Fritz." "Theywill always be special because they were our very first recruiting classhere at Kansas State. Our team will be different without their presence,but we will have people step up to fill the void."
Kansas State must deal with the loss of these standout players with justone 'true' senior and six newcomers, including four freshmen. The Wildcatsreturn three starters and eight letterwinners overall from a team thatposted a 20-8 overall record and 15-5 mark in Big 12 Conference play in2001. The team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for thefourth straight year where it lost to eventual Final Four participantNebraska.
In 2002, the team's strength lies in the areas of serving and passing,as the Wildcats return more than 94 percent of their assists and 68 percentof their aces. The squad also brings back 65 percent of their dig totalfrom a year ago.
The team's perceived weakness lies in the loss of its two most effectiveoutside hitters (Wegner and Mimick), who accounted for nearly 44 percent ofthe team's offense in 2001. In all, the team returns just 44 percent oftheir offense and 40 percent of their points scored. The team also lost theteam's leader in nearly all blocking categories, Jayne Christen, who rankedsixth in the Big 12 Conference with a 1.20 blocks per game average.
"The team continues to develop their own identity and key leadershipcontinues to emerge," said Fritz, who set a school-record for winningpercentage by a first-year head coach with a .714 percentage. "We will beyouthful in that Jenny (Pollard) is our only true senior, but this is not aninexperienced team. They have fought some battles together and had atremendous spring. Their preparation began months ago and they have donethe necessary work to be successful."
Senior co-captain Jennifer Pollard anchors what Fritz calls "as deep ofa group as we have ever had at the outside hitter position." Pollard, whoserved as the team's third outside hitter behind Wegner and Mimick, hasconsiderable experience with starts in 46 of the team's last 56 matches.The Wildcats' co-leader (along with Mimick) in double-doubles with 14,Pollard is top returner in kills (2.79), total attacks (8.39) and digs pergame (3.26). She produced 17 matches of 10 or more kills and 19 matches of10 or more digs. She ranked third in 2001 with 343.5 points.
"Jenny has developed into a very nice all-around volleyball player,"said Fritz. "She helps our team in countless ways with her ability to pass,defend, attack and block. She has a steady, unyielding presence and is aconstant in her ability to not make a lot of mistakes."
Although technically not a starter with just 20 appearances and fivestarts in 2001, junior Cari Jensen brings quality experience at the outsidehitter position after averaging 4.00 kills per game in 27 matches and 26starts as a true freshman in 2000. Jensen, who saw her kill total drop from374 as a freshman to just 94 as a sophomore, saw her playing time diminishwith the solid threesome of Wegner, Mimick and Pollard last season.However, she still made the most of her time by averaging 2.47 kills pergame in just 38 games played. She has 14 career double-doubles and 26matches of 10 or more kills.
"Cari has put her time in and has developed into a fantastic outsideattacker," said Fritz. "She has developed range to add to her alreadyterminal nature. She figured a lot out last spring and is capable of beingone of the best outside hitters in the league."
A late summer transfer from Division II Northern Michigan, sophomoreMichaela Franklin has the ability and talent to feel the void at outsidehitter. A native of Lincoln, Neb., Franklin saw action in all 32 matchesfor the Wildcats with 20 starts and 121 games played. She ranked second onthe team in total kills (421) and kills per game (3.48) and registered 24double-digit kill performances, including 21 of the team's last 23 matches.
"Michaela is a gifted athlete," said Fritz. "She has a strong arm andpossesses the ability to get on the ball. She is a terminal attacker andwill work to develop range and become a more complete player."
The rest of the depth at outside hitter comes in the form of threeplayers that have never touched floor in an actually game situation.
Katie Stanzel redshirted her freshman year after a stellar four-yearcareer at Marian High School in Omaha, Neb. The 2000 Gatorade Circle ofChampions Player of the Year for the state of Nebraska will look tocontribute after learning the system.
"Katie's strongest asset is her work ethic," said Fritz. "She has allthe talent and desire to become a great volleyball player."
A heralded true freshman out of Council Bluffs, Iowa, Jaime Perkins wasa four-year starter and four-year member of the Omaha World HeraldAll-Western Iowa team out of Thomas Jefferson High School.
"I liken her to Lisa Mimick," said Fritz. "If you ask her what sheloves to do, she loves to dig balls. I think she'll have an opportunity tochallenge early because of her skill level."
The only Wildcat to start all 28 matches last season, junior LaurenGoehring will guide an extremely young group at middle blocker with aredshirt sophomore and two true freshmen.
Goehring, a former member of the Junior National team, was the team'sbest all-around player in 2001, as she averaged 2.12 kills per game on .255hitting with 0.35 aces per game, 2.44 digs per game and 1.04 blocks per gameas a sophomore. She paced the squad with 37 service aces, including a 0.35per game average, and was second on team in blocks. A strong, effectivehitter, she overcame a slow start to the season by tallying a hittingpercentage of .300 or better in 12 matches, including 10 in the team's last15 contests.
"Lauren had a breakthrough spring, and will share some of the leadershipresponsibility as a returning junior," said Fritz. "She is starting to comeinto her own and I believe that this year will be a very exciting one forher. Lauren does so many things for our team, in that, she cannot onlyblock and attack at a high level, but that she is also a great backrowdefender and passer."
Sophomore Lisa Martin will see a significant role after seeing limitedaction last season with just one start in 10 matches played. However, sheplayed a crucial role in the Wildcats' five-game win over Missouri on Sept.26 with a season-best six kills on .600 hitting with team-best six blocks.
"Lisa has the athletic ability and prowess to accomplish whatever shedesires," said Fritz. She is an extremely competitive and this fall will bean opportunity for her to showcase her talents."
Two freshman ? Joy Hamlin and Molly Lindquist could also see time duringthe year Hamlin, at 6-foot-3 the team's tallest player, was a three-yearstarter at Winfield High School in Douglass, Kan. and a two-time all-stateselection. Lindquist, a walk-one from Manhattan High, was a three-sportstandout in volleyball, basketball and soccer. She turned down severalsoccer scholarships to walk-on at K-State.
One of the Big 12's top true freshmen in 2001, sophomore Gabby Guerrereturns after serving as the team's starting setter the final 20 matches ofthe year. Guerre, who narrowly missed a triple-double on several occasionsduring the season set a freshman record with 12 double-doubles. A playerwith the team's second highest hitting percentage at .293, averaged 1.16kills per game and ranked third with a 2.84 digs per game average.
"Gabby stepped into a difficult role as a starting freshman last yearand did a nice job of running our offensive system," said Fritz. "She iswiser and more experienced now with a season of competition under her belt.She has done the necessary things in the offseason to improve her physicalpresence on the court."
Although, she will serve primary as the team's starting libero, juniorLaura Downey-Wallace could see time at the setter spot. Downey-Wallacestarted seven matches in 2001 and averaged 8.07 assists per game to go withthree double-doubles.
A senior transfer from Division II USC-Aiken, Kristen Foote moved backto her hometown of Manhattan, Kan., after spending her first three seasonsat Emporia State and USC-A.
A new term for college volleyball in 2002, libero is a designatedback-row player who cannot serve, attack or set inside the attack line.
One of the team's top players, Laura Downey-Wallace began the season asthe team's starting setter before seeing action primarily as the team'sdefensive specialist. She tallied six double-digit dig performance duringthe year, including a season-best 16 in a three-game of Washington State atthe Wildcat Classic on Sept. 8.
"Laura is a tremendous all-around volleyball player," said Fritz. "Shecame to us as a left-side attacker and has since spent time at both thesetter and defensive specialist positions. She possesses a wealth oftechnical skill and understands the game at very high level."
Jensen, the identical twin sister of Cari, saw action in 25 matches and78 games last season, averaging 1.59 digs per game. She turned in fivedouble-digit dig totals, including a career-best 19 in a loss at No. 14Texas A&M on Oct. 22.
"Kris has the ability to score points in bunches with her serve," saidFritz. "She can help us the most with her ball-control and defensiverange."
Sleichter saw time in 23 matches and 67 games last season, averaging1.79 digs per game. She had a season-best 15 digs at Iowa State on Oct. 10,one of four 10-dig matches on the season.
"She has a solid ability to receive serve," said Fritz. "She is fieryand competitive and is starting to understand the demands of the game andposition."