Wildcats take West Coast Swing to Portland

The Kansas State Wildcats enter the Nike Portland Invitational at 2-1 after a strong showing at the Mortar Board Premier hosted by Purdue to open the season. The Wildcats begin a stretch of playing five matches in five days with four at the tournament and their home opener against Cal State Northridge on Monday.

The Wildcats open this week’s action against UC Irvine and face Arizona State and Portland on Friday before closing the weekend against South Florida on Saturday. All four opponents are teams not too familiar to the Wildcat program with no more than two matches played against any of the teams. The most recent participant to play K-State is South Florida in 2003.

Fans can stay up to date with the K-State volleyball team during the tournament at k-statesports.com. Portland’s athletic department will provide live stats for all matches at http://livestats.internetconsult.com/portland/wvball/. Free live audio and video of Portland’s matches will be available at http://www.portlandpilots.com/sports/2008/8/18/GEN_0818085512.aspx and www.pilotsvideo.com.

The Wildcats will be facing Arizona State for the first time and are looking to take the lead in the all-time series with Portland and South Florida as each series is knotted at 1-1. UC Irvine has won the only match between the Wildcats and Anteaters in 1984.

The Wildcats have faced teams from Portland’s West Coast Conference and has a 4-4 record. In her only previous match against a WCC team, coach Suzie Fritz lost to Santa Clara. K-State is 7-7 against teams from UC Irvine’s Big West Conference and Fritz is a perfect 2-0. Against the Pacific-10, the Cats are 3-15 all-time with Fritz going 1-6 against Arizona State’s counterparts. Kansas State has never lost to a member of the Big East with an 8-0 record. The Wildcats’ loss to South Florida came before the Bulls joined the conference. Fritz is 4-0 against the Big East.

UC Irvine: Charlie Brande (UC Irvine, 69) has led the Anteaters to a 118-122 record entering the 2008 season in eight years leading the program. He took his alma mater to an 11-5 record in Big West play last season to finish third.

Kansas State: Suzie Fritz (Florida Atlantic 94) enters her eighth season leading the Wildcats. She holds the highest winning percentage in school history and is 20 wins shy of taking the top spot at K-State. Her next win will be No. 150.

Arizona State: Jason Watson (BYU 95) is in his first year as a head coach for the Sun Devils after accumulating a 74-18 record in three seasons at his alma mater BYU and leading the team to three straight NCAA Tournaments.

South Florida: Claire Lessinger (Florida 97) enters her fifth season with the Bulls after compiling a 44-69 record. USF is a perfect 3-0 this year.

Portland: Joe Houck (Portland State 87) also is a first-year coach and had a 131-76 career record in eight years before taking the job with the Pilots. Portland is 1-2 in his debut season witha loss to Washington and a split with Montana State.

UC Irvine comes to Portland after playing in the Aztec Invitational at San Diego State last weekend. The Anteaters had three players selected to the All-Tournament team with setter Taryn Robertson and outside hitters Lauren Kellerman and Kari Pestolesi receiving the honors.

Robertson had 93 assists over three matches with 16 kills on a .640 hitting percentage. Kellerman had 25 kills at the Aztec Invitational including 11 against San Diego. She also had four aces and just missed a double-double with nine digs against the Toreros. Pestolesi did post a double-double against San Diego with 14 kills and 12 digs. She also notched four service aces against host San Diego State.

The Anteaters have another threat in Larissa Nordyke who led the team in kills twice last week. She led the team with nine kills against San Diego State and paced the team with a career-high 12 kills against Albany in the opener.

Arizona State will have a familiar face on the bench in new head coach Jason Watson. After graduating from BYU and served as an assistant under his former coach Carl McGown on the men’s team. Two years later he began coaching in the women’s ranks with assistant stints at Kansas State, Arkansas State and Montana State.

The Sun Devils are led by Sarah Reaves, who tallied 48 kills in the team’s first three matches of the year in a tournament hosted by Arizona State. Reaves hit .254 over the weekend and was aided by Margie Giordano in the kill department with 36. Reaves also averaged 3.90 digs per set to begin the year. As a team the Sun Devils are hitting .224 while holding their opponents to .158.

Arizona State opened the year 2-1 at its tournament with sweeps over South Carolina and Dayton. The Sun Devils’ loss came in four sets to UNLV with all four sets being tightly contested at 19-25, 25-20, 19-25, 23-25.

Portland has opened the season at 1-2 with a loss to No. 9 Washington and splitting matches with Montana State. The Pilots lost in four to Montana State to open the season and was swept by Washington before getting revenge against the Bobcats in five sets.

K.C. Fox leads the way for the Pilots having double digits in kills in all three matches. She is averaging 3.17 kills per set and hitting at a .232 clip. She is not alone on offense as Jennifer Sheedy and Ashley Grayson each surpassed double digits in two matches. Jessica Clemens also reached the mark in the final match against Montana State.

South Florida enters the weekend with a perfect 3-0 record after winning the USF Invitational at home. The Bulls are led by Marcela Gurgel at 3.60 kills per set. She had 36 kills over the opening weekend with 15 aces and 12 digs. Gurgel also hit .416 en route to earning tournament MVP. For her effort Gurgel also was named Big East Player of the Week.

The Bulls hit .364 as team whie their opponents are hitting just .078. Grambling State, Eastern Kentucky and Northeastern combined for 79 kills over the weekend and 60 errors. USF is also out-blocking opponents 19-6.

Catching Up with the Cats
The Wildcats opened the season 2-1 at the Mortar Board Premier hosted by No. 25 Purdue. K-State swept Tennessee State and Duke before falling in four sets to the Boilermakers. In the sweep over Duke, the Wildcats hit .311 as a team with 49 kills and just 17 errors. Middle blocker Megan Farr led the attack with seven kills on a .462 clip. Nataly Korobkova and Rita Liliom both reached double digits in kills with 15 and 13 respectively.

The Wildcats placed two on the All-Tournament team as Rita Liliom led the team in kills with 37 for the weekend. Nataly Korobkova had 34 and hit .256. Liliom had her first double-double of the season against Purdue with 14 kills and 12 digs

Setting it all Up
Redshirt freshman setter Abby Fay had her first career double-double against Duke when she had 38 assists and 10 digs for the match. She started all three matches at the Mortar Board Premier with 13 assists against Tennessee State. She played the first set against Purdue and had 10 assists.

Junior college transfer Soriana Pacheco saw her first action in the third set against Tennessee State and had five assists. She came in late during the first set against Purdue and finished the match for the Cats and totalled 28 assists.

Aces are Aild
K-State entered the 2008 season with the longest current streak in the nation of matches with at least one service ace. The Wildcats have kept the streak alive thus far and it currently stands at 290 consecutive matches. K-State opened the season with its high so far against Tennessee State with seven aces against the Lady Tigers.

The streak started on Nov. 13, 1998, in a 3-1 win over Missouri in Ahearn Field House. The last time K-State failed to register a service ace was on Nov. 7, 1998 in a 3-1 win over Colorado.

One current Wildcat has played a big role in keeping the streak alive. Senior outside hitter Jenny Jantsch is creeping up the rankings at K-State with 104 career service aces. Her 51 aces in 2006 rank seventh in school history and she is just outside the top 10 in career aces. She has two this season.

No Smokin’ Aces
The Wildcats had 105 more service aces than their opponents in 2007 with solid serve receiving. After K-State did not give up an ace in a match for the first time in nearly three years in 2006, the Cats did it three times last year. North Texas, Fresno State and Colorado all fell victim to K-State’s perfect serve receiving.

In 2008, it has been more of the same as the Wildcats have twice as many aces as their opponents holding the edge 14-7. Tennessee State had just two aces to open the season against K-State and Duke eked out one ace against the Cat D.

Fritz Chasing 168
Kansas State volleyball coach Suzie Fritz is quickly approaching the No. 1 spot in school history in wins. In seven seasons, Fritz has posted a career record of 147-71 and is 21 wins behind Scott Nelson for the most wins  at K-State. Nelson posted a 168-176-1 record from 1980-90.

During her time as head coach, Fritz has taken the Wildcats to their first conference championship claiming the Big 12 title in 2003. She also has twice been named Big 12 Coach of the Year and was the 2003 Central Region Coach of the Year.

An All-American Encore?
Senior opposite hitter Nataly Korobkova stormed onto the scene of the Big 12 in her first season as a Wildcat in 2007. In her debut season, Korobkova pounded out 498 kills at 4.33 kpg -- fifth all-time at K-State.

She has picked up where she left off in 2008 with 37 kills in K-State’s first three matches. After struggling in the first match of the season with just three kills, Korobkova finished the weekend strong with 15 kills against Duke and 16 against No. 25 Purdue to average 3.70  kps. She also added nine digs against Purdue to just miss on her first double-double of the season. Her efforts earned her a spot on the Mortar Board Premier All-Tournament Team.

After making AVCA All-America Third Team last year, eyes will be on Korobkova to see if she can be the second player in Kansas State history to have two All-American seasons. As a junior she proved to be able to rack up kills by the bunches and notched eight matches with 20 or more kills. Those eight matches rank No. 6 in school history for a single season. It also catapulted her into the top 10 for her career as well.

All her efforts on the court for the Wildcats earned her a spot on the AVCA All-America Third Team to become the eighth All-American in school history.

Korobkova’s All-America recognition was just her final award for the season. She was named AVCA All-Central Region First Team and All-Big 12 First Team. Korobkova also became the school’s second volleyball student-athlete to be named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year

K-State Picked Third in Big 12
After finishing third in the Big 12 Conference in 2007, the Wildcats were picked to finish in the same place this year behind favorite Texas and Nebraska. The Wildcats also received one first-place votes with Texas receiving the other 10.

The coaches of the Big 12 also selected its annual Preseason All-Big 12 Team and recognized three of K-State’s student-athletes. Outside hitters Nataly Korobkova and Rita Liliom were joined by middle blocker Megan Farr on the team. Korobkova and Farr both earned All-Big 12 recognition following the 2007 season.

The Wildcats began the 2008 season in familiar territory being ranked among the Top 25 programs in the nation. Kansas State was voted No. 14 in the CBS College Sports Network/AVCA Coaches Preseason Top 25 Poll after finishing last year at No. 16.

K-State was joined by fellow Big 12 teams Texas (3), Nebraska (7) and Iowa State (18) in the poll. Texas A&M, Missouri and Oklahoma also all received votes in the preseason poll. Two of the Wildcats’ nonconference opponents were recognized by the voting coaches. Purdue closed out the poll at No. 25 while Duke is receiving votes.

To the right is a chart of Kansas State’s place in the AVCA Top 25 Poll this year.

Killer Cats
Last season, the Wildcats had one of the most productive years offensively in school history as a team and have continued along the same path. K-State averaged 12.90 kills per set to open the season and hit .240 as a team.

After having five different players lead the Wildcats in kills during a match, two have stepped up to start the year. Nataly Korobkova (2) and Rita Liliom (1) have both paced K-State in kills so far this year. Kelly Chipman, Megan Farr and Jenny Jantsch were not far behind their teammates and helped keep the Wildcats strong and deep offensively.

In 2007,  the Cats tallied 1,933 kills on the season, which ranks fourth all-time. With a team hitting percentage of .268, the 2007 Wildcats had the most efficient year attacking in the program’s history. Three of the top five team hitting percentages in K-State history have come since 2003 to prove the Wildcats continue to be a strong attacking team under coach Suzie Fritz.

Four of the top 10 individual hitting seasons have happened during the Fritz era with middle blockers Megan Farr and Kelsey Chipman each making the list in 2007.

Not Farr to Reach
Senior middle blocker Megan Farr has proven to be one of the most efficient hitters in school history and has a chance to put herself atop the record books with another solid year. Farr was named All-Big 12 Honorable Mention last year after racking up 286 kills and hitting .390. Her high hitting percentage helped pull her career percentage to .352 entering her senior year, which ranks as the second-best in school history. She is just two points behind career leader Lauren Goehring.

Chip Off the ol’ Block
Middle blocker Kelsey Chipman has established herself as one of the top net players in school history in just two years. She was two blocks short of tying the record for most block assists by a sophomore. She had 162 block assists, which ranks among the Top 10 seasons in school history.

She continued her dominance at the net with seven total blocks in the opening weekend adding five block assists to her tally. Chipman is just outside the Top 10 in career block assists with two years of eligibility remaining at K-State. She holds school records for most block assists in a five-set match and a postseason three-set match. Chipman also is poised to have more 10-block matches than any player at K-State with three more such matches. In 2007, Chipman had three matches with 10 or more blocks to tie the school record for a single season.

Wildcat Wall
For the third straight year Kansas State posted one of the most successful seasons defending the net in 2007. The team began its 2008 campaign with strong performances blocking their opponents.

The Wildcats out-blocked Tennessee State and Duke and were edged out by Purdue in their match with the Boilermakers. K-State did reach 10 blocks in that match, however.

K-State has been one of the most consistent and best teams blocking in the Big 12 Conference recently as the 2005 campaign saw the team set a school record for total blocks only to see the 2006 effort fall just short of the mark. The 2007 version bested 2005 with 357.5 total blocks for a new record.

Four of the top five individual performances for a five-set match all came in 2007. Nataly Korobkova, Megan Farr and Kelsey Chipman all proved to be hard to get through at the net for the Wildcats.

Warm Wildcat Welcome
Four new Wildcats join the team in 2008 looking to make an impact and contribute to the success of the program. Three freshmen and a junior college transfer join the Wildcats this season. The newcomers bring a variety of experience and includes: freshman Kathleen Ludwig, a left-handed outside hitter from Shawnee, Kan., Melanie Delimont a freshman middle blocker from Wichita, Izabela Grot, a freshman outside hitter from Poland, and Soriana Pacheco a junior college transfer from Western Nebraska.

Pacheco comes to K-State from junior college power Western Nebraska where she helped lead the Cougars to the NJCCA National Championship last season and the championship match her freshman year. She is a two-time junior college All-American and was named Junior College Player of the Year last season. She is expected to compete for the starting setter position alongside redshirt freshman Abby Fay.

Grot adds to the strong list of international players already on the Wildcat volleyball team and a lot of experience at a high level. Grot helped her club team in Poland reach the final tournament of the Junior Polish Championship three times. She also played for the Junior National Team from 2003-05.

The final two newcomers are both products of the state of Kansas to join a roster filled with student-athletes mainly from Kansas. Delimont brings two league MVP’s with her from Andover High School and a Class 4A state championship. Ludwig also was a two-time league MVP in high school at Bishop Miege where she helped lead the team to a 5A State Championship. She received a number of accolades her senior season including the Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year and the prestigious Evelyn Gates Award.

Wildcats Making the Grade
For the seventh consecutive year Kansas State’s volleyball team received the AVCA Team Academic Award. The award is given annually to teams at the high school and all college levels with a team GPA of 3.3 or higher on a 4.0 scale. The team led the way again in the Big 12 with the most student-athletes named to the Academic All-Big 12 Team for a third straight year to help the team toward another AVCA team award.

New Rules of the Court
The NCAA has made a number of rule changes for the 2008 season. Fans can expect to see the college game begin to look a bit more like international play with changes in substitution rules and most significantly scoring. A change in terminology is being made now referring to games as sets.

Substitution changes limit the number of substitutions that can be made, which results mainly from lowering the score necessary to win sets. The winning score for Sets 1-4 is now 25 points rather than the 30 adopted with the switch to rally scoring in 2001. Fifteen points is still the mark to reach in a fifth set, and teams still must win by at least two points.

Fritz Era gets vote of Confidence
In April, Fritz and the Kansas State Athletics Department agreed to terms on a five-year contract extension for the eighth-year volleyball coach to solidify her services through 2012. Fritz has served as the head coach for seven seasons and was an assistant under Jim McLaughlin during his tenure to help orchestrate the rise of the Wildcat program.