Wildcats Host Four Straight Days of Action

Tristan McCarty

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – K-State volleyball begins a week full of action at home on Wednesday when the Wildcats play host to Missouri State at 6 p.m. The match will be the first of four straight days of competition held at Ahearn Field House. K-State will take on Saint Mary’s on Thursday evening and Utah State on Saturday at 6 p.m. following K-State’s football game against Miami. Saint Mary’s and Utah State also will meet for a neutral site match on Friday evening at Ahearn.

All three teams will present a strong challenge for the Wildcats with Missouri State going to the NCAA Tournament last year and Saint Mary’s reaching the post season three of the last seven years. Utah State won the WAC to years ago to go to the NCAA Tournament as well.

The Wildcats are fresh off a tournament win at the Bluejay Invitational last weekend that saw the team sweep Denver, Syracuse and Creighton. K-State is one of only two teams in the Big 12 Conference that remain undefeated two weeks into the season. The Wildcats enter their busy week ranked No. 22 in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll.

K-State is offering various ticket options this week for fans as well. Wednesday will be a Wildcat 4 Pack night with four general admission tickets along with four concession vouchers for just $40. Thursday’s match against Saint Mary’s will be Faculty/Staff Night with $1 tickets to all K-State employees. Saturday will be the first Wildcat Weekend of the year with discounted tickets for fans who have their ticket stub from the football game against Miami that day.

On The Airwaves
This week’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.

Matches against Missouri State and Saint Mary’s will be available on K-StateHD.TV for fans subscribing to the online network. K-State Gameday will be on hand for its pregame show hosted by Brian Smoller and Liz Wegner-Busch. Subscriptions are available for one month at $9.95 or a full year at $79.95.

The Series
Missouri State: K-State trails the all-time series with the Bears 6-13 but has won the last four meetings dating back to 1996. Suzie Fritz is 2-0 against Missouri State, including a 3-2 win at the Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Invitational last season on he Bears’ home floor.

Saint Mary’s: K-State won its first ever meeting with the Gaels last season at their home tournament.

Utah State: K-State is 4-0 against the Aggies all-time with Suzie Fritz posting two of those victories. This is the first time these two teams have met since 2005 and the first time not on a neutral court.

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

Missouri State: Melissa Stokes (San Diego State ‘91) is in her 17th year leading the Bears. During her time at Missouri State she has lead the team to seven NCAA Tournaments.

Saint Mary’s: Rob Browning (BYU ‘90) is in his eighth year leading the Gaels where he has developed the program into a Top 25 contender. He guided the team to the West Coast Conference title in 2009 and has taken the Gaels to the NCAA Tournament three of the last seven years.

Utah State: Grayson DuBose (BYU ‘93) is in his seventh year leading the Aggies. He has a record of 97-91 and guided the team to the 2010 WAC Tournament Championship and the program’s fourth NCAA Tournament.

Scouting the Bears
Missouri State returns four starters from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, including setter Carly Thomas.  The Bears opened the season two weeks ago at Oklahoma’s home tournament, where every team participating went to the 2011 NCAA Tournament. Missouri State dropped matches to OU, Tulsa and Western Michigan.

Last weekend at their own tournament the Bears claimed wins over Oral Roberts, Arkansas-Little Rock and Austin Peay but fell to No. 11 Dayton.

Thomas is directing the offense to a team hitting percentage of .203 and 14.2 kills per set. She also is contributing 1.08 kills and is strong defensively at 3.19 digs. Missouri State’s top offensive threat is Christin McCartney at 3.50 kills. Four other Bears are averaging at least 2.20 kills as Thomas spreads the offense around. Missouri State also is a threat at the net defensively with 2.48 blocks per set.

Scouting the Gaels
Saint Mary’s comes to Manhattan with a 4-2 record after winning a tournament hosted by Sacramento State. The Gaels swept all three matches against Morgan State, Boise State and Sacramento State. Outside hitter Lauren Corp earned tournament MVP as she averaged 4.11 kills and hit .369 over the weekend.  The Gaels were receiving votes in the AVCA Poll a week ago, but are no longer in this week’s poll.

Saint Mary’s returns is similar to K-State in that the Gaels return every starter from last year’s team. The Gaels went 17-12 a year ago, narrowly missing an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. They opened the season in Hawai’i where they took on traditional powers Stanford and host Hawai’i as well as Albany.

Scouting the Aggies
Utah State is looking to return to the NCAA Tournament after one of the most successful seasons in school history in 2010. This year the Aggies return five starters from a team that went 12-17 last season and welcome back key offensive threats Shay Sorensen and Josselyn White.

The Aggies are 5-2 after dropping a match to San Diego State at the Aztecs’ home tournament. Utah State’s other loss came at its tournament to in-state rival Utah. The Aggies are averaging 3.09 blocks per set to be a major threat at the net defensively.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
The Wildcats swept all three of their matches at the Bluejay Invitational, including a win over host Creighton.  Three K-State players were named to the all-tournament team with Kaitlynn Pelger winning MVP honors. Caitlyn Donahue and Lilla Porubek joined her on the team.

K-State got hot during the sweep over Creighton going on a 12-0 run in the third set to close the door on the Bluejays. Pelger posted three aces during her serving run, and Porubek tallied four kills. Pelger averaged 2.78 kills on a .360 hitting percentage to go along with 3.56 digs, 1.11 blocks and a total of six aces to earn MVP. Porubek was strong all weekend with 3.78 kills on a .337 clip. Donahue guided the team to a .287 hitting percentage for the tournament with 13.11 assists per set and added 1.67 digs.

K-State Ranked No. 22
The Wildcats opened the 2012 season ranked No. 22 in the AVCA Preseason Coaches Poll and this dropped one spot back down to No. 22. The preseason ranking marked the first time since 2009 K-State was ranked to start the season. Two other teams from the Big 12 Conference remain in the Top 25. Defending conference champion Texas comes in at No. 4 after a loss at powerhouse Penn State and falling two spots. Iowa State split matches at No. 19 Illinois and dropped three spots to No. 18. The Cyclones were swept by the Illini on Friday before winning in five on Saturday.

K-State’s nonconference schedule boasts a number of quality opponents with Minnesota moving up to No. 14 this week. Dayton shot up the rankings a week ago to No. 11 and this week climb one spot into the Top 10. The Wildcats play the Golden Gophers and Flyers at Tulsa’s Golden Hurricane Classic next week. The Golden Hurricane was receiving votes in the poll until this week after losing to Arkansas and Kansas at KU’s tournament this weekend.

Storming Out of the Gates
This season the Wildcats have opened the 2012 campaign with six straight wins. The longest winning streak of the season last year that saw the Wildcats reach the NCAA Regional Semifinals was nine matches. The six straight wins to open the season is tie for the second longest streak in school history. Three times K-State has started the season 6-0: 1985, 1983, 1978. Only two other years have the Wildcats opened a season with more consecutive wins with eight wins in both 2005 and 1988. The 2005 team went 21-11 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In 1988, K-State would follow that 8-match win streak with nine straight losses and finish 15-13 on the year.
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.