Wildcats Set to Host Varney's Invitational

Kuulei Kabalis

Sept. 1, 2011

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – After their rally in the fifth set to defeat Creighton on Tuesday night, the Kansas State Wildcats are ready to host the annual Varney’s Invitational at Ahearn Field House. Action gets underway on Friday morning when Idaho and BYU will faceoff at 10 a.m. K-State will follow with a match against Georgia Southern. The second session on Friday begins at 5 p.m. with BYU and Georgia Southern taking to the court before K-State squares off with Idaho at 7:30. Action Saturday resumes at 10 a.m. and the Wildcats will close the tournament at 1 p.m. against BYU.

Discounted tickets are available as there will be a Wildcat Weekend promotion during the Varney’s Invitational. Fans can get in for just $3 when they show their ticket to the K-State vs. Eastern Kentucky football game for Saturday.

K-State enters the contest with a 2-2 record after winning two straight following losses to Georgia Tech and Louisville last week. The Wildcats rebounded with a sweep over Tennessee Tech and then defeated Creighton in five sets. BYU and Georgia Southern also enter the Varney’s Invitational with 2-2 records while the Vandals of Idaho are 1-2.

Sophomore middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger highlighted the win over Creighton on Tuesday with a career-high 24 kills. She also posted her second double-double of the season with 14 digs. K-State rallied from behind multiple times in the fifth set to get the win over the Bluejays tying the set at 11 and 13 points apiece before closing the door 15-13.

Last year, the Varney’s Invitational saw the Wildcats sweep through all three of their opponents on their way to winning the tournament. K-State swept Oral Roberts, Loyola Marymount and Georgia Tech.

On The Airwaves
Friday’s match against Georgia Southern will be aired live on KMAN 1350 with Rob Voelker calling the action. K-State’s other two matches will be taped delayed on that station. All matches will be available live through kstatesports.com for free with live audio streaming.

All of K-State’s matches can be seen on its newly launched K-StateHD.TV online network. Fans can subscribe to the service for $9.95 a month or pay an annual rate of $79.95. K-StateHD.TV will offer more than just live sporting events. Additional programming will include pregame shows, campus events and more.

Live stats will be available at kstatesports.com for fans wanting to track the action as well.

The Series
Kansas State has little experience playing BYU, Georgia Southern or Idaho. Combined the Wildcats have only played these opponents a total of four times.

BYU: The Cougars lead the series 2-1 but the Wildcats got the best of them at BYU’s home tournament two years ago in five sets. The is the first time BYU has travelled to take on K-State in Manhattan.

Georgia Southern: This is the first meeting between K-State and Georgia Southern.

Idaho: This is the first meeting against the Vandals since 1983 when Idaho got the win 3-0.

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 197 wins and is not far off of the best winning percentage in school history as well at .624.

BYU: Shawn Olmstead (BYU ‘05) is in his first year as head coach of the Cougars after being promoted last this summer. He had served as an assistant coach for the program since 2008 before being bumped up to head coach. He also played at BYU and helped the Cougars to two national championships and one runner-up finish.

Georgia Southern: Chad Callihan (Radford ‘01) is in his fourth year leading the Eagles where he has tallied a 66-39 record. Last season, he led the team to a second-place finish in the Southern Conference and the NCAA Tournament after winning the conference championship tournament.

Idaho: Debbie Buchanan (Southern Cal ‘96) is in her 12th year at Idaho where she is the longest tenured volleyball coach in school history. She has led the team to one NCAA Tournament and has not posted a losing record in Western Athletic Conference play since 2002.

Scouting the Eagles
The Eagles are coming off a successful 2010 season that saw them win their conference tournament and reach the NCAA Tournament for the third time in school history. Georgia Southern is led by senior outside hitter Bethany Sanford, who is averaging 3.88 kills per set on a .221 hitting percentage so far this season. She also is a solid defender in the back row for the Eagles as she is posting 3.44 digs per set.

Setter Kate Van Dyke directs the offense to a .249 hitting percentage as a team and also is a threat offensively. She is averaging one kill a set but is efficient with her attacks as she has not committed an attacking error all season with a .432 hitting percentage. Van Dyke also is averaging 2.50 digs a set.

Manhattan will not be an unfriendly town to Van Dyke either as she was high school teammates with K-State’s Kathleen Ludwig and they led Bishop Miege to a runner-up finish at the state tournament.

Outside hitter Meredith Packert is another threat for the Eagles averaging 3.20 kills on a .369 hitting clip.

Scouting the Vandals
Idaho comes to K-State with a 1-2 record after playing at the Shamrock Invitational at Notre Dame on opening weekend. The Vandals are led by outside hitter Allison Walker, who is averaging an impressive 4.42 kills per set through the first three matches of the season. Walker also is one of the key defenders for the Vandals as she is second on the team in digs with 3.42 per set and third in blocks at 0.75 per set. She led the team last year and earned All-WAC first team honors as a freshman.

Joining Walker as one of the top offensive players for Idaho is fellow outside hitter Alicia Milo. The senior is averaging 3.58 kills a set and 2.50 digs. The Vandal offense is guided by setter Jenny Feicht as the team is hitting .227 this season. Feicht is averaging 11.42 assists per set and contributes 1.92 digs.

At the Shamrock Invitational, Idaho opened with a five-set win over Butler before falling to host Notre Dame in four. The Fighting Irish were receiving votes in the AVCA Top 25 Preseason Poll and still are. Idaho then was swept by Eastern Michigan.

Scouting the Cougars
BYU opened its season with a loss to No. 8 Illinois before posting a win over UC Santa Barbara and a loss to Saint Mary’s at the Cougars’ home tournament. On Tuesday, BYU defeated Weber State in three sets.

The Cougars have found a reliable hitting in opposite Jennifer Hamson. The 6-6 sophomore is averaging 5.00 kills per set this season and hitting at a .324 clip. Hamson posted 17 kills against Illinois and UCSB to go with 20 against Saint Mary’s and 11 on Tuesday night. She is not the only strong hitter for the Cougars. Jessica Gardine is averaging 2.42 kills and Christie Carpenter made her season debut on Tuesday night and posted seven kills in just two sets played.

Defensively, the Cougars are well distributed in digs. Libero Kendalyn Hartsock leads the team with 3.77 digs, but four other players all average more than 2.15 digs a set.

Catching up with the ‘Cats
K-State is looking to ride the momentum of its rally on Tuesday night against Creighton. The Wildcats trailed 7-8, 8-11 and 11-13 in the fifth set and came from behind each time to tie it up and eventually get the win 15-13 scoring the final four points of the match. Sophomore middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger again highlighted the Wildcats as she posted a career-high 24 kills in the win. Pelger also had 14 digs to post her second double-double of the season and third of her career. She was just one block shy of posting the program’s first triple-double since Gabby Guerre did so in 2004 with assist, kills and digs.

Junior setter Caitlyn Donahue is beginning to grow more comfortable in her role on the team after switching to the position last season. Donahue has had two matches of 40 or more assists and posted a double-double in the win over Creighton on Tuesday. The junior from Overland Park had 48 assists to go with her impressive 18 digs. Donahue also had five kills in the win, with one coming on an over pass by the Bluejays and setting up match point for the Wildcats.

Killer Kaitlynn
Kaitlynn Pelger is averaging 4.40 kills per set this season and has posted two double-doubles already from her middle blocker position. The sophomore has led the team in kills every match but one so far this season and also has been the most efficient hitter. At the Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic against Tennessee Tech, Pelger posted a strong hitting percentage of .800. That percentage ranks fourth in school history for a three-set match. Against the Golden Eagles she pounded out 13 kills on 15 swings with one error. For her performance Pelger was honored with an All-Tournament Team selection.

Kuulei Can Play
Junior college transfer Kuulei Kabalis has earned the starting libero spot for the Wildcats and averaged 3.47 digs per set so far this season. The native Hawaiian tallied 20 digs in the win over Creighton on Tuesday for her first 20-dig match as a Wildcat. She also has proven to be one of the team’s top servers with keeping teams off balance with her strong play. Kabalis also is the first player in the program’s history from Hawai’i.