Bluejay Invitational Next Up for Wildcats

Lilla Porubek

Aug. 30, 2012

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – K-State volleyball heads north this weekend for another tournament and its first road test of the season. The Wildcats are set to take on three teams at the Bluejay Invitational hosted by Creighton on Friday and Saturday. The Wildcats are ranked No. 21 heading into the tournament, and will face a tough opponent in Creighton that is receiving votes in this week’s AVCA Coaches Poll.

The Bluejay Invitational opens with the Wildcats taking on the Denver Pioneers at 3:30 p.m. Friday before the hosting Bluejays will face the Syracuse Orange. All four teams will play two matches on Saturday with action at the D.J. Sokol Arena, which opened in 2009.

All four teams opened the 2012 season with successful tournaments as Creighton, K-State and Syracuse all enter this weekend’s event undefeated. Denver went 2-1 in its opening weekend. K-State won its home tournament and Creighton won the USF Invitational. Syracuse went 3-0 winning a tournament hosted by Colgate, and Denver’s only loss came to Colorado State at the Rams’ home tournament.

The Bluejay Invitational has had two other Big 12 teams participate recently. In 2010, the Kansas Jayhawks won the tournament and in 2005 Iowa State claimed the victory.

Creighton serves as the only familiar opponent for the Wildcats this weekend after defeating the Bluejays in an exciting five-set match last year at home. K-State also played Creighton one other time in Head Coach Suzie Fritz’s tenure, winning 2005. The Wildcats have faced Syracuse only once, and will take on the Pioneers for the first time.

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 and 1350kman.com.

Online
Every match at the Bluejay Invitational will be available for live video streaming at gocreighton.com. There is a 24-hour pass available for $4.99 and a 48-hour pass for only $5.99. Fans can signup for the service by clicking the Live Video link at the top of gocreighton.com.

The Series
Kansas State has played a total of nine matches against this weekend’s opponents combined, eight of those are against host Creighton.

Denver: The Wildcats have never faced the Pioneers.

Creighton: K-State is 5-3 all-time against the Bluejays winning the last five meetings. Suzie Fritz is 2-0 with wins in 2005 and last season against Creighton. This is the first time K-State has played at Creighton since 1980.

Syracuse: The Orange and Wildcats have played only once with K-State getting a sweep in 1999.

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 220 wins and has taken the team to eight NCAA Tournaments, including three runs to the Regional Semifinals.

Creighton: Kirsten Bernthal Booth (Truman State ‘97) is the winningest coach in Creighton history with a record of 161-115 and is in her 10th year leading the Bluejays. She is 0-2 against K-State.

Denver: Jesse Mahoney (Colorado ‘95) is in his first season leading the Pioneers. He was an assistant at traditional NCAA Tournament program Colorado State before becoming a head coach.

Syracuse: Leonid Yelin (Uzbekistan Government Institute of Physical Culture and Sport ‘70) is in his first year coaching the Orange. He saw great success making Louisville a regular NCAA Tournament team winning 20 or more games 11 times while leading the Cardinals.

Scouting the Bluejays
Creighton returns five starters from last year’s team that went 17-14 and finished fourth in the competitive Missouri Valley Conference. This week the Bluejays are receiving votes in the AVCA Coaches Poll after defeating tradition NCAA Tournament team Wisconsin at a neutral site tournament last week.

The Bluejays spread their offense around in the opening weekend with three players averaging more than 2.00 kills per set. Meghan Bober is the team’s top returning player and she posted 2.18 kills to start the season along with a .408 hitting percentage. The pair of Heather Thorson and Kelli Browning are averaging 2.55 kills apiece. Browning is the most efficient attacker on the team hitting .521.  The Bluejays hit .253 as a team and showed strong defense with 17.27 digs a set and 3.14 blocks.

Scouting the Pioneers
Denver is a program in transition. After a 13-16 record a year ago, the Pioneers are under the direction of new head coach Jesse Mahoney. He comes to Denver after a successful career as an assistant at Colorado State where he helped lead the Rams to seven NCAA Tournament appearances and five Mountain West Conference championships in his seven years on staff. Denver also is moving conferences this year, transitioning from the Sun Belt to the Western Athletic Conference.

The Pioneers opened the season with an impressive offensive showing, hitting .281 over three matches at a tournament hosted by Colorado State. Denver dominated Rhode Island to start the year winning each set by at least 11 points. The tandem of Colleen King (3.33) and Michele Swope (3.22) lead the team in kills and two more players are averaging at least 2.00 kills per set. The Pioneers also blocked nearly three balls per set.

Scouting the Orange
Syracuse also has a new head coach this year in Leonid Yelin. The former head coach at NCAA power Louisville inherits a team with two preseason All-Big East selections and prepares to move to the ACC next year. The Orange opened the year a perfect 3-0 at the Colgate Classic with wins over Illinois-Chicago, Bryant and Colgate.

The Orange are led by Andrea Fisher and Nicolette Serratore, who both averaged 3.77 kills per set at Colgate last weekend. Three players are averaging more than 3.00 kills with Samantha Clarey joining Fisher and Serratore as the team’s top threats at 3.15 kills. Syracuse hit .289 as a team and held its opponents under .200 thanks to an average of 2.85 blocks per set.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
The Wildcats opened the season by winning their own Varney’s Invitational. K-State tallied sweeps over UC Irvine and Oakland before closing the tournament with an exciting 3-2 win over Oregon State. The Wildcats trailed the Beavers 14-18 in the four set and were staring a loss in the face before three straight kills from Kaitlynn Pelger helped grab the momentum. The Wildcats carried that momentum into the fifth after a 25-23 win and won 15-8 in the pivotal set to win the tournament.

Pelger was one of three Wildcats to be named to the Varney’s Invitational All-Tournament Team. She averaged 3.64 kills per set and led the team with a .344 hitting percentage. The middle blocker played all six rotations again and averaged 2.82 digs and contributed seven aces.

Senior setter Caitlyn Donahue was named MVP of the Varney’s Invitational as she helped direct the Wildcats to a team hitting percentage of .260 and averaged 11.18 assists per set. She posted two double-doubles with 30 assists and 12 digs against UC Irvine to open the season. Donahue had 59 assists and 15 digs in the win over Oregon State. She averaged 3.00 digs per set to help the defense and had four kills against the Beavers to keep the opponent’s defense honest.

Junior outside hitter Lilla Porubek was the third Wildcat on the Varney’s Invitational All-Tournament team. She led the Wildcats with 3.80 kills and hit .325. She along with Pelger, helped take control of the match late against Oregon State as she tallied 21 kills for the match. Porubek was extremely efficient in the season opener hitting .571 with 10 kills in a win over UC Irvine.

The Wildcats had a strong presence at the net on defense in the opening weekend averaging 2.18 blocks per set. Senior middle blocker Alex Muff posted 1.55 per set. K-State also posted 17.09 digs per set with Tristan McCarty keeping balls alive at a 3.18 per set rate. Libero Kuulei Kabalis averaged 3.09 and sophomore specialist Gina Madonia was at 2.27, including a career-high 15 in a win over Oakland.

K-State Ranked No. 21
The Wildcats opened the 2012 season ranked No. 22 in the AVCA Preseason Coaches Poll and this week climb one spot to find themselves at No. 21. The preseason ranking marked the first time since 2009 K-State was ranked to start the season. This week 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 again and is just edged out by Nebraska for the No. 1 spot by seven points in the poll. Iowa State dropped five spots to No. 15 after falling twice at a tournament with three other strong teams. The Cyclones lost to No. 12 Florida State, No. 15 Tennessee and a Cincinnati team that was receiving votes at the time.

K-State’s nonconference schedule boasts a number of quality opponents with Minnesota remaining at No. 16 this week. Dayton shot up the rankings from the receiving votes list all the way up to No. 11 this week after defeating then-ranked No. 7 Illinois and No. 11 Pepperdine at Dayton’s home tournament. The Wildcats will play the Golden Gophers and Flyers at Tulsa’s Golden Hurricane Classic in two weeks, and the Golden Hurricane are receiving votes in the poll.

Oklahoma also represents the Big 12 on the poll with the Sooners being listed among the teams also receiving votes. Two other nonconference opponents, Creighton and Saint Mary’s, are receiving votes.

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. The opening weekend was no different in 2012.

More than 2,700 fans packed the stands at Ahearn for the season opener against UC Irvine and following the match Suzie Fritz again praised the fans and said K-State is one of the best atmospheres to play in all the country. For the final match of the weekend more than 1,500 faithful came out to watch the Wildcats’ come-from-behind victory over Oregon State to average 1,755 for the three matches at the Varney’s Invitational.

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.

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 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.