Wildcats Set to Showcase Talent in Omaha

MANHATTAN, Kan. - The Kansas State Wildcats open the 2009 volleyball season this weekend at the Runza/AVCA Showcase against two national powerhouses with Michigan and Minnesota. K-State is making its second trip to the AVCA Showcase in school history. The Wildcats went 0-2 in 2003 in Hawaii but went on to win their first Big 12 Conference title.

This year’s AVCA Showcase features K-State and fellow Big 12 Conference member Nebraska taking on the Big Ten Conference powers. Nebraska reached the NCAA Semifinals last season and eliminated Michigan in the Regional Semifinals. Minnesota lost to Iowa State in the second round to end the Golden Gophers’ season.

K-State coach Suzie Fritz is in her ninth year at the helm and became the programs winningest coach last season with a 171-79 career record. She and her Wildcats are hoping to return to the NCAA Tournament after being eliminated in the first round last year and finishing the year ranked No. 22 in the AVCA Coaches Poll.

This season the ‘Cats find themselves at No. 22 to start the year and have five spots to fill on the team. K-State lost five players to graduation -- four starters -- and bring a young team to the court in 2009. K-State does return one of the top middle blockers in the program’s history in Kelsey Chipman, and libero Lauren Mathewson is coming off a sophomore campaign that ranks second in most digs in a season. Setter Soriana Pacheco returns for her senior season after directing the offense to 13.59 kills per set and proving to be solid at the service line as well.

All the action from the Runza/AVCA Showcase will be televised on CBS College Sports Network with a few changes to make the matches more viewer friendly. Two media timeouts will be taken during each set with coaches awarded one additional timeout to take at any point during the set. The matches will be played on a three-toned court as well to make back row attacks, gameplay and schemes more discernable. K-State’s matches can also be heard on 1350 KMAN with Brian Smoller calling the action.

The Series
The Wildcats will be facing Minnesota for the 17th time and have met the Wolverines just three previous times having won all three. K-State has won just two matches against Minnesota with its last win coming in 1979. 

The Coaches
Kansas State: Suzie Fritz (Florida Atlantic ‘’94) is in her ninth year as head coach of the Wildcats she is the winningest coach in the program’s history in terms of wins (171) and winning percentage (.684).

Michigan: Mark Rosen (Cal State Northridge ‘85) is entering his 11th year at Michigan where he has led the Wolverines to eight NCAA Tournaments missing out on the postseason in just 2001 and ‘05.

Minnesota: Mike Hebert (UC Santa Barbara ‘66) has been coaching at Minnesota for 13 years and more than 30 overall. The Gophers have missed the NCAA Tournament just once in his tenure with two Final Four runs.

Nebraska: John Cook (San Diego ‘79) enters his 10th year with the Cornhuskers and has led them to five Final Fours and two national titles in that time. He is a two-time AVCA National Coach of the Year.

Scouting the Golden Gophers
Minnesota returns two starters along with its libero. The Gophers are playing with a new setter this season as Rachel Hartman graduated. The team does have an All-American setter, however, in Taylor Carico who transferred from USC. Carico was a Second Team All-American in 2007 for the Women of Troy.

Two All-Americans are back for Minnesota with outside hitter Brook Dieter earning second team honors and pounding out 3.57 kills per set last season. Lauren Gibbemeyer brings her 3.24 kills per set and 1.39 blocks back to the middle along with Third Team All-America status. The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year is also back on the court. Libero Christine Tan averaged 4.86 digs per set last season to lead the Gophers.

As a team, Minnesota went 27-7 in 2008 and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Iowa State. The Gophers hit .234 as a team while holding opponents to a .161 hitting percentage thanks to solid defense and blocking. Minnesota average nearly a whole block per set more than its opponents in 2008.

Like the Wildcats, the Gophers welcome eight newcomers to this year’s team. Three of those newcomers are transfers. Megan Wilson and Jess Menden join Carico as transfers. Wilson transfers to Minnesota from Missouri, and Menden returns to her native Minnesota after playing previously at TCU. Three of the incoming freshmen are ranked in the Top 50 recruits and two were high school all-Americans.

Scouting the Wolverines
Michigan returns five of its starters from a 2008 team that went 26-9 and lost to Nebraska in the NCAA Regional Semifinals. The Wolverines must replace the 3.15 digs per set left behind by libero Kerry Hance.

The Wolverine defense was spread fairly evenly last season with four players with more than 300 digs. A fifth player had 299 digs. Hance is the only one of the group not returning in 2008. The team averaged 14.87 digs per set and held opponents to hitting .204.

Michigan was 4-8 against ranked opponents last year with a 3-0 win over No. 11 Minnesota at home highlighting the season. The Wolverines opened the NCAA Tournament with a 3-2 win over No. 20 Kentucky and No. 21 Saint Louis before falling to Nebraska in three sets.

This year’s Wolverines are experienced with just three freshmen on the squad with one being a redshirt. Four seniors will help lead Michigan through a strong Big Ten Conference to a 10th NCAA Tournament appearance in 13 years.

Scouting the Cornhuskers
Nebraska returned to the National Semifinals last season and bring four starters and libero from that squad eyeing another deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

The Cornhuskers are led by Tara Mueller with 400 kills a year ago and a .258 hitting percentage. Middle blocker Kori Cooper returns after missing part of 2008 with an injury. Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Sydney Anderson will direct the Nebraska offense again after averaging 11.60 assists per set and helping the Huskers to a team hitting percentage of .270.

Anderson, Cooper and Mueller all received AVCA All-America honors as well. Anderson and Mueller each earned second team nods, and Cooper received honorable mention.

The Huskers have three holes to fill on the court with the departure of Big 12 Player of the Year Jordan Larson, middle blocker Amanda Gates and defensive specialist Rachel Schwartz. Larson averaged 3.92 kills per set and 3.19 digs. Gates hit .339 on the year and led the team in blocks with 1.14 per set. Schwartz averaged 2.00 digs per set.

Nebraska welcomes seven freshmen to the squad this year -- five true, two redshirt -- to go with the five returning starters.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
K-State has the task of replacing five seniors from a 2008 squad that went 24-8 and went to another NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats lost in the first round to Santa Clara in five sets to end their season.

Four of last year’s seniors were starters with the fifth providing a vital role on the back row passing and serving for K-State. Filling those voids will be the job of a young Wildcat team ready to take on one of the toughest schedules the Wildcats have put together in some time.

Senior middle blocker Kelsey Chipman is back and brings the most experience on the team has started at K-State as soon as she walked on campus as a freshman. Chipman is already one of the most prolific blockers in school history and is climbing the all-time rankings for the program. Her .354 hitting percentage in 2008 ranks ninth in school history and she is poised to climb the career rankings as well as her .322 career mark currently sits fifth.

Setter Soriana Pacheco is the only other senior on the team and will resume her starting role for the Wildcats after grasping the offense midway through her first year with the program and leading K-State to hit .253 as a team and  she averaged 9.25 assists per set. Pacheco also proved to valuable at the service line leading the returning players with 30 aces.

Junior libero Lauren Mathewson is ready to build off her strong sophomore season after replacing all-time digs leader Angie Lastra at the position. Mathewson had one of the best defensive seasons in school history racking up 505 digs to rank fourth all-time at K-State. It was the most digs by a sophomore, and her average of 4.11 digs per set could have put her on pace to set the school record for digs under the old rally scoring format to 30 points versus the 25 points played in 2008. Mathewson also tallied eight matches with at least 20 digs, which tied for third in a season and already puts her seventh for a career.

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