Volleyball Opens 2012 Campaign at Home

Kaitlynn Pelger

Aug. 23, 2012

Complete K-State Notes Get Acrobat Reader -- UC Irvine Notes

Oakland Notes -- Oregon State Notes

Media Interviews: Suzie Fritz -- Alex Muff -- Lilla Porubek -- Kathleen Ludwig

MANHATTAN, Kan. – K-State volleyball opens the 2012 season on Friday when the Wildcats host the Varney’s Invitational at Ahearn Field House. Six matches will be played over two days with No. 22 K-State taking on UC Irvine, Oakland and Oregon State. The round-robin tournament is set to start at 5 p.m. Friday and the Wildcats will play their first match of the season at 7:30 against the Anteaters of UC Irvine. K-State will take on Oakland at 12:30 p.m. Saturday and close the tournament with Oregon State on Saturday evening.

Last season, K-State went 22-11 and advanced to the NCAA Regional Semifinals before falling to No. 18 Pepperdine in Hawai’i. The Wildcats ended the season at No. 22 in the final AVCA Poll and enter this season there as well in the preseason poll. K-State returns every starter from last year’s squad and has a few other players with starting experience from previous seasons as well.

This year’s Varney’s Invitational will have a bit of a West Coast flare with UC Irvine and Oregon State making the trip. The Anteaters and Wildcats last faced each other in a tournament hosted by Portland in 2008. K-State has not played the Beavers since 1994. The Golden Grizzlies of Oakland journey to Ahearn from Michigan and have never faced the Wildcats.

After reaching the NCAA Regional Semifinals for the third time in school history last year, the 2012 Wildcats are looking for another successful season and deep run into the postseason. With no seniors last year, K-State boasts its most experience since the 2008 squad that returned five seniors. All seven starters from 2011 are back for K-State with the only loss from the roster being backup setter Ashley Kelican. In addition to the seven starters returning, two other players have significant starting experience for the Wildcats.

Last year, the Wildcats were one of the younger teams in the Big 12 and the nation as only three teams with no seniors reached the NCAA Tournament joining Oregon and San Diego. With the deep run in the tournament and the returning experience to the 2012 squad, the Wildcats are ranked in the AVCA Preseason Coaches Poll for the first time since 2009.

The preseason recognition is coming from the Big 12 coaches as well. The Wildcats were picked to finish third in the conference by the league’s coaches in a tight race with Iowa State for second. Last year, the league’s coaches picked K-State to finish eighth out of the nine teams and finished alone in fourth place.

Three players were also recognized by the coaches being named to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. Juniors Kaitlynn Pelger and Lilla Porubek made the list after Pelger earned first team honors last year after the season and Porubek was named honorable mention. Senior setter Caitlyn Donahue joined them on the preseason team after finishing second in the Big 12 in assists per set last year.

Prior to Friday night’s match, there will be a season ticket holder appreciation event in the north end of Ahearn. Saturday’s match against Oakland will have Wildcat 4 Packs available for just $30 that include four general admission tickets and concession vouchers. It will be Military Appreciation Night against Oregon State with discounted tickets available to military personnel.

On The Airwaves
This weekend’s matches can be heard live on KMAN 1350 with Rob Voelker calling the action. The match will be  available live through kstatesports.com for free with live audio streaming.

All three of K-State’s matches will be broadcast on K-StateHD.TV for fans subscribing to the online network. Subscriptions are available for $9.95 a month or $79.95 a year.

The Series
Kansas State does not have much experience playing any of the three other teams at this weekend’s Varney’s Invitational. K-State has only played a total of four matches against UC Irvine, Oakland and Oregon State combined. The last time K-State played either of these teams was 2008 against UC Irvine in Portland.

UC Irvine: The Wildcats are an even 1-1 against the Anteaters winning their last meeting in 2008 in four sets. The Anteaters return Aly Squires who led the team in kills last season with 355 and was named All-Big West honorable mention. Starting libero Kristin Winkler is back after posting 5.12 digs per set last year and ranking 40th in the NCAA.

Oakland: K-State has never played the Golden Grizzlies. Last season, Oakland went 18-10 last year and finished third in the Summit League. The Grizzlies return four starters including All-Summit League outside hitter Meghan Bray. Oakland was one of the top defensive teams in the NCAA last year ranking third in digs per set at 18.56. Libero Alli Kirk returns and averaged 5.43 to rank 25th individually.

Oregon State: The Beavers have defeated the Wildcats in both their meetings. Oregon State swept K-State in 1993 and 1994. After finishing 16-16 last season, Oregon State is looking for its first winning record since 2001. This season the Beavers return five starters, including outside hitter Camille Saxton. She was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention last season along with Arica Nassar last season. Nassar averaged 2.26 kills per set and was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team.

The Coaches
Kansas State: Suzie Fritz (Florida Atlantic ’94) is in her 12th year as head coach of the Wildcats she is the winningest coach in the program’s history with 217 wins and has taken the team to eight NCAA Tournaments, including three runs to the Regional Semifinals.

UC Irvine: Paula Weishoff (USC ‘00) is in her fourth year leading the Anteaters after coaching at Concordia previously. She recently helped lead the USA women’s national team to a silver medal at the London Olympics as an assistant coach under now-Minnesota head coach Hugh McCutcheon. UC Irvine assistant Jamie Morrison also served as an assistant coach at the Olympics.

Oakland: Rob Beam (Clarke College ‘96) enters his sixth year with the Golden Grizzlies. He has accumulated a record of 68-75 and helped lead Oakland to a tie for third place in the Summit League last year. He took over a program in 2007 that won just one match the previous season.

Oregon State: Taras Liskevych (Loyola ‘70) has been coaching the Beavers for seven years and has had five All-Pac-12 selections in that time. He also served as the head coach for the USA women’s national team from 1982-96 winning a bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

Scouting the Anteaters
The Anteaters return four starters from last year, including two All-Big West performers in Aly Squires and Kristin Winkler. Squires is UC Irvine’s top offensive threat averaging 3.41 kills per set last year. She also played a big role defensively with 3.10 digs per set, a strong number for an outside hitter. Winkler was one of the nation’s most consistent liberos in 2011 averaging 5.12 digs per set. She ranked No. 40 in the category in Division I.

UC Irvine also returns its top blocker from a year ago. Shannon Fleming stuffed 1.06 blocks per set and also contributed 1.57 kills. The Anteaters have two setters fighting for the starting position entering the year. Marrisa Alvares averaged 4.66 assists per set last season splitting time with Mary Carls. Mackenzi Campbell joins Alvares in the battle after playing in only six sets last season. She played her freshman year at Montana State.

Scouting the Golden Grizzlies
Oakland is a program on the rise under Coach Rob Beam. After winning only one match in 2006, Beam took over and in his fifth season took the Golden Grizzlies to the most wins in school history, going 18-10 in 2011. The 12 wins in Summit League play also was the most in the program’s history.

The Grizzlies have a strong group of seniors leading the team this year headlined by outside hitter Meghan Bray and libero Alli Kirk. Bray averaged 3.54 kills per set last year and Kirk ranked No. 22 in digs per set at 5.43. Brittany Holbrook is another senior leader with 2.45 kills per set and junior setter Alissa Valentine returns.

Scouting the Beavers
Oregon State posted a .500 record last year going 16-16 and tallied two All-Pac-12 honorable mentions from Camille Saxton and Arica Nassar. With five returning starters, the Beavers are looking for their first winning record since 2001. The Beavers are playing a challenging nonconference schedule with three NCAA Tournament opponents, including Miami and Penn State.

The Beavers have a lot of experience with 11 letterwinners returning. More than 70 percent of the teams’ kills are represented by the 2012 roster. That experience could come in handy as Oregon State plays its first 14 matches on the road this season.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
The Wildcats return every starter from last season’s Sweet 16 team. K-State is led by All-American Kaitlynn Pelger at middle blocker. The junior played all six rotations last season, one of the few at the position to do so, and tallied 15 double-doubles as a result. She led the team with 500 kills to rank fifth in school history for a single season.

Junior outside hitter Lilla Porubek provides K-State’s main threat on the outside with 3.36 kills per set. She ranked among the top hitters in the Big 12 last year and earned All-Big 12 honorable mention. Porubek was a preseason All-Big 12 selection this year joining Pelger on the list.

Senior setter Caitlyn Donahue also was named to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team by the coaches and ranked second in the league last year with 11.22 assists per set. She tallied 16 double-doubles as she dug 2.84 balls per set. Donahue also posted the first triple double by a Wildcat since 2004 when she guided the team to an exciting 3-2 win over Missouri at home.

Senior co-captains Kathleen Ludwig and Alex Muff will again play key leadership roles for the team. Muff is the team’s top blocker and ranks among the best in K-State history. Ludwig is one of the Wildcats’ best servers and could crack the 1,000-kill mark with a strong senior showing.

Three Wildcats Receive Preseason Honors
The K-State volleyball team joined No. 2 Texas and No. 10 Iowa State as the teams with the most players on the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. Junior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger was a unanimous selection by the coaches after her strong showing in 2011. Junior outside hitter Lilla Porubek made the list after receiving All-Big 12 honorable mention last year. Senior setter Caitlyn Donahue ranked second in the conference in assists in 2011 and she was honored by the coaches heading into her final season.

K-State Ranked No. 22
The Wildcats enter the 2012 ranked No. 22 in the AVCA Preseason Coaches Poll. It marks the first time since 2009 K-State is ranked to start the season. The Wildcats are joined by two other teams from the Big 12 Conference in the Top 25. Defending conference champion Texas comes in at No. 2 to start the season and Iowa State makes its highest appearance on the preseason poll at No. 10.

One of K-State’s nonconference opponents is ranked in the preseason poll as Minnesota comes in at No. 16. The golden Gophers are one of seven teams from the Big Ten to be ranked.

Oklahoma also represents the Big 12 on the poll with the Sooners being listed among the teams also receiving votes. Three of K-State’s nonconference opponents are also receiving votes: Dayton, Saint Mary’s, Tulsa.

K-State Picked Third in Big 12
After finishing fourth in the conference last year, the Wildcats were picked to finish third by the Big 12 coaches this season. In a tight battle for second K-State had 52 points in the poll, trailing Iowa State by only one point. Defending champion Texas was the preseason favorite again receiving eight of nine first-place votes. Iowa State received the remaining first-place vote.

Last season, the Wildcats were picked to finish eighth out of the nine teams. The Big 12 Conference has undergone changes for a second straight season. The schedule will remain a double round-robin and total 16 conference contests apiece. The league adds TCU and West Virginia to replace Missouri and Texas A&M, which both left for the SEC this season. K-State has never played the Horned Frogs or Mountaineers.

Family Affair
The Kansas State volleyball team has been run like a family under the direction of Suzie Fritz, and it can be seen on the roster as well. Senior middle blocker Alex Muff is a second generation Wildcat student-athlete as her father Kevin played basketball at K-State.

Junior outside hitter Courtney Traxson also is a Wildcat legacy. Her aunt Helen Bundy-Buchanan lettered for the K-State volleyball team in the mid-1980s and her older brother Cameron threw javelin for the Wildcat track and field team and her mother Patty also participated in track and field for the Wildcats.

Junior outside hitter Dakota Kaufman is the cousin of former Wildcat JuliAnne Chisholm as the two were able to play together last season after pairing up at Hillsboro High School for one season as well.

Junior defensive specialist Tristan McCarty’s rounds out the K-State family tree as her cousin Cory Boulanger threw javelin for the Wildcats.

One more Wildcat has family connections to the program. Outside hitter Lilla Porubek’s mother played professional volleyball in Europe with former Wildcat All-American Valli Hejjas in professional beach volleyball.

Packed with Purple
K-State fans have traditionally made Ahearn Field House one of the greatest venues and atmospheres in the Big 12 Conference. In 2011, fans packed Ahearn with purple averaging more than 1,500 per match and ranked No. 22 in the nation.

This year more renovations have been done to Ahearn Field House to enhance the atmosphere. The entire balcony seating area has been painted purple and white. The railings have all been converted from cream to white and the bleachers are now K-State Purple instead of brown. Along with the seating renovations and Powercat banner installed over the previous two years, Ahearn Field House is now truly home to the Purple and the White.

Redesigned banners have been hung in Ahearn as well replacing the older ones. The traditional style banners commemorate the winning tradition at K-State, displaying all 13 NCAA Tournament banners, All-Americans and the 2003 Big 12 Championship.