Wildcats Open 2011 Campaign

Alex Muff

Aug. 24, 2011

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – The Kansas State Wildcats open the 2011 volleyball season this weekend at the Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic where they will take the likes of host Georgia Tech, Louisville and Tennessee Tech. The squad this year is looking to rebound from back-to-back losing seasons and make a push toward returning to the NCAA Tournament again. That journey starts in Atlanta this weekend with the first match set for 7 p.m. EST from O’Keefe Gymnasium on the campus of Georgia Tech. K-State will take on Louisville at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and close against Tennessee Tech at 4:30 p.m.

The Wildcats have no seniors on the team this year, but that does not mean the team is inexperienced. Seven players return from last year with extensive starting experience, including three juniors who have been starting for two years now. This weekend’s tournament will be a good test for the Wildcats to start the season as Georgia Tech and Louisville both have postseason experience on their rosters.

Last season, Louisville reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and Georgia Tech went to the tournament in 2009 but did not receive an at-large bid last year. Tennessee Tech also has the most experienced coach in the tournament with more than 30 years under his belt.

Sophomore middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger is one of K-State’s top returning players and she was selected to the Preseason All-Big 12 Conference Team by the league’s coaches after leading the Wildcats in kills last season and being named to the Big 12 Conference All-Freshman Team.

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.

Georgia Tech will be providing free live video at ramblinwreck.com for all matches of the tournament. There will be no audio for matches not involving the Yellow Jackets, however. Audio when K-State plays Georgia Tech would be Georgia Tech’s radio feed, but K-State’s radio call will again be on kstatesports.com. Live stats will be available through ramblinwreck.com and kstatesports.com for fans wanting to track the action live on the web.

The Series
Kansas State does not have much experience playing any of the three other teams at this weekend’s Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic. K-State has only played a total of five matches against Georgia Tech, Louisville and Tennessee Tech combined.

Georgia Tech: The Wildcats are an even 1-1 against the hosting Yellow Jackets after sweeping them last season at the Varney’s Kansas State Invitational. This is the first time the Wildcats will play the Yellow Jackets on their home floor.

Louisville: K-State is a perfect 3-0 against the Cardinals with the last meeting between the two schools coming in 2007. All three of those matches have been at neutral sites. Head Coach Anne Kordes is 0-1 against K-State losing to the Wildcats while at Saint Louis.

Tennessee Tech: This is the first-ever meeting between K-State and Tennessee Tech. Head Coach John Blair is 1-1 against K-State playing the Wildcats twice while he coached at Ole Miss.

The Coaches
Kansas State: Suzie Fritz (Florida Atlantic ’94) is in her 11th year as head coach of the Wildcats she is the winningest coach in the program’s history with 195 wins and is not far off of the best winning percentage in school history as well at .626.

Georgia Tech: Tonya Johnson (LSU ‘93) is in her third year leading the Yellow Jackets where she has a 39-24 record. She led her team to the NCAA Tournament her first year and went 18-14 last season.

Louisville: Anne Kordes (Louisville ‘98) returns to coach her alma mater this season after a successful seven years at Saint Louis where she led the Billikens to three NCAA Tournament appearances.

Tennessee Tech: John Blair (Tennessee ‘76) is in his ninth year coaching the Golden Eagles. He has coached the team to a 99-140 record during his tenure and has more than 30 years of coaching experience.

Scouting the Yellow Jackets
The Yellow Jackets are eyeing a return to the NCAA Tournament this season after going in coach Tonya Johnson’s first year in 2009 and just missing out a year ago. Georgia Tech must, however, replace two important pieces from the last four years. Setter Mary Ashley Tippins and libero Jordan McCullers both graduated and played a role in the Yellow Jackets’ success.

Outside hitter Monique Mead will again lead the offense after pounding out 4.29 kills per set last year at a .232 hitting clip. Mead also was a solid defender posting 2.05 digs a set. Middle blocker Asia Stawicka ranked ninth in the ACC last season with her hitting percentage of .335 and was fourth in blocks at 1.10 a set. She is expected to play a big role for the Yellow Jackets again in 2011. Bailey Hunter will compliment Mead on the outside after finishing second on the team in kills last season with 3.05 a set. Hunter also is one of the team’s top servers and closed the season with five aces against Clemson last year.

Scouting the Cardinals
Louisville reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year and are looking to return under new head coach Anne Kordes. The new coach is no stranger to success after taking Saint Louis to multiple NCAA Tournaments. She also will be coaching her alma mater where she helped lead the Cardinals to the NCAA Regional Semifinals as a senior.

Louisville returns six starters from last season’s squad so the Cardinals will have experience on the court. Middle hitter Gwen Rucker was one of the most efficient players in the Big East last year hitting at a .402 percentage. She is joined on the attack by Lola Arslanbekova, who averaged 3.86 kills per set last season and hit .228. Emily Juhl also is one of the team’s top returning outside hitters averaging 2.67 kills.

Scouting the Golden Eagles
Tennessee Tech is similar to K-State in that the team has no seniors on the roster. That does not mean the team is inexperienced. Four players return with starting experience led by middle blocker Kelsey Gray. Last season, she averaged 2.27 kills a set while posting the team’s highest hitting percentage of .259. Gray also stuffed 1.06 blocks per set to lead the Golden Eagles.

Outside hitter Natalie Penrod was third in kills on the team last year with 2.35 per set and added 1.06 digs. Tennessee Tech also returns libero Allison May and her 535 digs froma year ago as a freshman. The Golden Eagles will have a new setter in 2011, with three players looking to battle for the starting spot. Madison Comperry and Ashleigh Hancock each saw limited action last season at the position.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
The 2011 Kansas State Wildcats will look young on paper with no seniors on the squad, but the team returns a number of players with significant experience. A total of seven players return who saw time in the starting lineup last season, including two who played every set, one played all but one set, another played all but two sets and one played all but three sets due to an ankle injury.

K-State lost only two starters from a year ago and must replace three-year starting libero Lauren Mathewson as well as two-year starter JuliAnne Chisholm. Mathewson was one of the best liberos in school history and Big 12 history while Chisholm provided 2.83 kills per set as a senior.

With that returning experience the Wildcats are looking to return to the NCAA Tournament after missing out on the postseason for just the third time in the Suzie Fritz era last year. Although the team has five juniors, seven sophomores and three freshmen, the team returns 75-percent of its kill production from last year and more than 80-percent of its blocks. The only statistical area the Wildcats lose a significant amount of production is in digs.

Pelger Receives Preseason Honor
Sophomore middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger will be one of the players to watch this season in the Big 12 Conference according to the league’s coaches. Pelger was named to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. Last season, Pelger was recognized for her efforts as a member of the Big 12 All-Freshman Team. Five other middle blockers were selected along with Pelger to make up the most players of any position on the list.

Texas received the most recognition by the coaches with Rachael Adams named Preseason Player of the Year and Khat Bell the Preseason Freshman of the Year. Outside hitter Amber Roberson also was named to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team for the Longhorns.  Iowa State’s Hannah Willms was named Preseason Newcomer of the Year after redshirting last year.

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. Junior middle blocker Alex Muff is a second generation Wildcat student-athlete as her father Kevin played basketball at K-State. Sophomore 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.

Sophomore 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. Chisholm is now a member of the K-State women’s basketball team.

Sophomore outside hitter Lilla Porubek has K-State ties as well. Her mother played professional volleyball in Europe and was partners with former Wildcat All-American Valli Hejjas in professional beach volleyball.

“Por”ing it on
Sophomore outside hitter Lilla Porubek emerged as a go-to player for the Wildcats late last season. Her kill production saw significant improvement, and she pounded out a new career-high 18 kills at Kansas on the final Wednesday of the season. In the exciting win over the Jayhawks, Porubek had 16 kills. It was the second straight match she posted a career-high in kills after tallying 13 at Oklahoma just a few days prior. She also tied her career-high of seven digs and had six blocks for a new high against the Jayhawks.

Porubek followed that with seven kills and five digs at home in a win over Colorado to keep her strong performances going. She finished the season with five or more kills in eight of K-State’s last nine matches.

The native of Budapest, Hungary, missed the first two weeks of the season to represent her country on the Hungarian Junior National Team at the 2010 European Championships.

Wildcat Wall
Kansas State has traditionally been one of the better blocking teams in the Big 12 Conference. After falling from the top four in the league in 2008 and 2009, K-State was back near the top averaging 2.42 blocks a set to rank third the Big 12 and 40th in the nation in 2010. The Wildcats posted 10 or more blocks in 12 matches last season, including 13 at No. 5 Hawaii,15 against 2009 NCAA Tournament team Georgia Tech and 18.5 against Kansas.

The Wildcats top four blockers included two sophomores and two true freshmen. One of those blockers ranked among the national leaders as well with sophomore Alex Muff standing 22nd (1.31) after an impressive stretch to close the season. Muff posted nine blocks against Baylor (11/13). Her total jumped significantly with 13 blocks at KU (11/24), and she finished the year with five against Colorado.