Wildcats Eye Wins at Wynn Invitational

Suzie Fritz

Sept. 7, 2011

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – The Kansas State volleyball team is looking to build off of its 3-1 week last week with more wins at the Dr. Mary Jo Invitational hosted by Missouri State. The Wildcats will take on the hosting Bears for their first match of the tournament at 7 p.m. Thursday before also taking on Hofstra and South Dakota State. K-State Head Coach Suzie Fritz also will be going for her 200th career win during the tournament as she currently stands on the threshold at 199.

K-State enters the tournament with a 4-3 record after falling to BYU on Saturday in the championship match of the Varney’s Invitational. The Wildcats performed well last week increasing their kill average and hitting percentage. Two of the three wins last week came against teams that reached the NCAA Tournament last season as the Wildcats defeated the Creighton Bluejays in five sets and swept the Georgia Southern Eagles.

Wildcat fans in the Springfield, Mo., area can catch the match on television as well if they are unable to attend in person. The match is being televised locally on Mediacom.

The Wildcats will face another NCAA Tournament team this week in Missouri State. The Bears were eliminated in the first round last year against Auburn. Hofstra is a program on the rise as fourth-year head coach Kristina Hernandez has led the Pride to a 7-0 record to start the season after a 10-24 record last year.

On The Airwaves
Thursday’s match against Missouri State will be aired live on KMAN 1350 with Rob Voelker calling the action. K-State’s match on Friday against Hofstra will be tape delayed on air but available live on K-State’s website. Saturday’s match with South Dakota State will be live on the air.

The audio broadcast of all K-State’s matches this week will be available for free online at kstatesports.com. There will be an online webcast of K-State match against Missouri State at missouristatebears.com/allaccess for a fee. For K-State fans in the Springfield, Mo., area the match will also be televised locally on Mediacom. Live stats will be provided via Gametracker for every match at the tournament as well with links available on K-State’s and Missouri State’s websites.

The Series
Kansas State has combined to face Missouri State and South Dakota State a total of 20 times, with 18 of those coming against Missouri State. K-State has never faced Hofstra.

Missouri State: The Bears hold the all-time series lead over the Wildcats 13-5 after dominating it back in the 70’s and 80’s. K-State has won the last three meetings, however, to turn the tide. This will be the first meeting between the teams since 2005.

Hofstra: This is the first meeting between K-State and the Pride.

South Dakota State: This is just the third meeting between the Wildcats and Jackrabbits. The Wildcats have won both previous matches with the last coming in 2005.

The Coaches
Kansas State: Suzie Fritz (Florida Atlantic ’94) is in her 11th year as head coach of the Wildcats she is one win away from her next milestone. Fritz currently stands at 199 career wins. She already is the winningest coach in the program’s history and is not far off of the best winning percentage in school history as well at .626.

Missouri State: Melissa Stokes (San Diego State ‘91) is in her 16th year leading the Bears. During her time at Missouri State she has lead the team to 339 wins and taken the team to six NCAA Tournaments.

Hofstra: Kristina Hernandez (North Carolina A&T ‘03) is in her fourth year at Hofstra. She has experience in turning programs around leading Loyola College to a 22-12 season in her fourth year there. This season, Hofstra has opened the campaign a perfect 7-0.

South Dakota State: Phil McDaniel (Culver-Stockton ‘96) is in his first year as the head coach at South Dakota State after serving three years as head coach at Drake. McDaniel also is a former assistant coach at SDSU where he helped guide the team to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2007.

Scouting the Bears
The Bears are coming off their sixth NCAA Tournament appearance in eight years and are looking for another return trip to the postseason in 2011. Missouri State has opened up to a 4-2 record with both losses coming against ranked opponents. The Bears fell in four sets at No. 16 Oklahoma the opening weekend of the season and lost to No. 20 San Diego in three sets last weekend.

Missouri State returns four starters from a year ago and are led by the tandem of Christine McCartney and Karen Rivatto with 3.35 kills per set each. Calli Norman is averaging 2.45 kills to give the Bears a triple threat on offense. Defensively, Missouri State had to replace its libero this season and Ashley Mason has filled in to lead the team with 4.30 digs per set. Shelby Strang also provides 3.00 digs for the Bears. Rivatto and setter Carly Thomas both average more than 2.00 kills a set to help the defense even more with four players over that mark.

The Bears lead the all-time series with the Wildcats 13-5 but the Wildcats have won the last three meetings. K-State coach Suzie Fritz is 1-0 against Missouri State and Missouri State coach Melissa Stokes is 0-3 against the Wildcats falling in 1996, 1997 and 2005. The Wildcats are 1-3 all-time in matches played at Missouri State.

Scouting the Pride
Hofstra has stormed out of the gates this season with a perfect 7-0 record in head coach Kristina Hernandez’s fourth year with the team. The Pride has defeated a host of East Coast teams after besting Rutgers in a home match on Tuesday night in four sets. Three of Hofstra’s wins have been sweeps with three coming in four sets and the first match of the season was a five-set win over Radford.

The Pride is led by sophomore outside hitter Nikki Kinnier with 4.00 kills per set and a .219 hitting percentage. She is joined by senior middle blocker Erika Charry as the top offensive threats for Hofstra. Charry is hitting .294 on the year. In the win over Rutgers on Tuesday, Charry tallied 13 kills, nine blocks and a .522 hitting clip.  It was her third match this season with nine blocks. She is averaging 1.62 per set this season.

Hofstra is averaging 2.73 blocks per set as a team to help hold opponents to a hitting percentage of just .125 while the Pride is hitting .220. Libero Kylee Maneja holds down the back row for the Pride as she averages 4.04 digs per set.

Scouting the Jackrabbits
South Dakota State enters the Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Invitational with a 6-2 record after sweeping Nebraska-Omaha on Tuesday night. The Jackrabbits are led by junior middle blocker Kelli Fiegen as she is first in kills, hitting percentage and blocks for the team. Fiegen had nine kills and a .471 hitting percentage in the sweep over UNO on Tuesday and added four blocks.

The Jackrabbits return six starters from last year’s team that went 16-14 and tied for third in the Summit League. One of those starters was libero Shay Birath and she is averaging 4.33 digs per set this season. South Dakota State also spreads its offense around with three other players joining Fiegen as offensive threats. Outside hitters Kelly Hermann and Ellyce Youngren along with middle blocker Kaitlin Klingemann all average more than 2.00 kills per set to give the Jackrabbits four players above that mark and multiple options for the attack.

South Dakota State and K-State have one common opponent thus far on their schedules as the Jackrabbits have also played Georgia Southern. SDSU travelled to the Eagles’ home tournament and rallied to defeat them in five sets after dropping the first two 21-25, 22-25, 26-24, 25-23, 15-10. K-State swept Georgia Southern during the Varney’s Invitational 25-19, 25-17, 25-15.

Catching up with the ‘Cats
The Wildcats are coming off a week that saw them go 3-1 with wins over two NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago. K-State opened the week with a 3-2 win over Creighton at home. The Wildcats battled back multiple times to deny the Bluejays in the fifth set. K-State trailed 7-8, 8-11 and 11-13 during the decisive set and fought back each time. The Wildcats scored four straight points to end the match winning the fifth set 15-13.

K-State rode that momentum into sweeps over Georgia Southern and Idaho. The Wildcats handled Georgia Southern 25-19, 25-17, 25-15 before battling in a tight match with the Vandals. Idaho kept up with the Wildcats for the most part but could not pull ahead with K-State winning 25-23, 25-19, 25-23. The Wildcats closed their home tournament with a loss to BYU in three sets falling by the same score they defeated Idaho. All three sets were tightly contested, but similar to Idaho, the Wildcats could not get the edge late. Sophomore middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger posted 20 kills in the loss against the Cougars.

Junior setter Caitlyn Donahue continued to grow more comfortable in her role on the team after switching to the position last season. Donahue averaged nearly 12 assists per set during the Varney’s Invitational and also was a threat offensively with 1.22 kills to keep the defense honest. Donahue also added 0.56 aces and 2.44 digs during the home tournament.

Killer Kaitlynn
Kaitlynn Pelger is leading the Big 12 Conference in kills as she is averaging 4.54 kills per set through seven matches this season. The sophomore middle blocker has already posted three matches with 20 or more kills, one of those came in only three sets. Pelger has accomplished this feat efficiently as well as she leads the team in hitting percentage coming in at .335 and just outside the Big 12’s top 10. Pelger also has two double-doubles to her name this season.

She also has put her name in the record books. 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.

Pelger has 109 kills through the first seven matches of the season. Last year, through seven matches she had 56 kills. The sophomore has played in all 24 of K-State’s sets this season. Through that many sets last year, Pelger had 58 kills. She did not reach 109 kills during her freshman campaign until the first set of the 13th match of the season last year.

Kuulei Can Play
Junior college transfer Kuulei Kabalis has earned the starting libero spot for the Wildcats and averaged 3.29 digs per set so far this season. The native Hawaiian tallied 20 digs in the win over Creighton 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 and five aces. Kabalis also is the first player in the program’s history from Hawai’i.

Welcome to the Block
Redshirt freshman Taylor Johnson made her career debut during the Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic in the Wildcats’ final match of the weekend helping the team to a victory over Tennessee Tech. Johnson played a key role in shutting down the Golden Eagles tallying an impressive eight block assists in her first action as a Wildcat. Johnson also had four kills on nine swings for a .333 hitting percentage. Johnson also had two digs and an assist in the win.

Since, Johnson has made brief appearances while spelling Alex Muff and made an immediate impact each time. In limited action against Georgia Southern, Johnson had two kills on four swings along with a dig and a block. In two sets against BYU, Johnson registered a kill on her only swing.

Right on Trax
Sophomore outside hitter Courtney Traxson saw her first extensive action of the season against Tennessee Tech and put on a show. Traxson tallied seven kills on just eight swings for a near perfect performance. Her hitting percentage of .875 did not qualify for the school record books because she did not have enough attempts. That did not keep her from making an impact on the match. While sophomore middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger was busy up the middle and on the slide for 13 kills, Traxson was keeping Tennessee Tech honest on the outside. She also added three block assists at the net. Traxson also posted six kills on a .286 clip in a sweep over Idaho during the Varney’s Invitational.

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. Junior middle blocker Alex Muff is a second generation Wildcat student-athlete as her father Kevin played basketball at K-State. Sophomore 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. Traxson’s mother Patty also was a member of the track and field team at K-State.

Sophomore 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. Chisholm is now a member of the K-State women’s basketball team.

Sophomore outside hitter Lilla Porubek has K-State ties as well. Her mother played professional volleyball in Europe and was partners with former Wildcat All-American Valli Hejjas in professional beach volleyball.

Chasing Records
A number of Wildcats are poised to put their names in the K-State record books this season. Caitlyn Donahue made the transition to setter last season after playing both outside hitter and defensive specialist as a freshman. She averaged 9.51 assists per game in her first year as a setter for the Wildcats and has already cracked the career Top 10 list at K-State. She currently has 1,338 assists and stands 10th on the list. She needs 769 to move into ninth ahead of Kristin Martin.

Alex Muff tallied 135 block assists during her sophomore campaign to tie for 10th in a single season in school history. That mark brought her career total to 176 and within striking distance of the career Top 10 list with another solid year.