Wildcats Host Varney's Invitational

The Wildcats are making their final stretch in nonconference play before hosting rival Nebraska on Wednesday with the annual Varney’s Kansas State Invitational. K-State is 8-1 in the event since Varney’s began sponsoring the tournament in 2005.

K-State will face three strong opponents in this year’s Varney’s Invitational, two of which advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2007. Liberty won the Big South Championship last year and went 27-9. Northern Iowa went 21-11 and finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference to receive an at-large berth. Cornell went 9-16 last year and placed fifth in the Ivy League after making two consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament.

The Wildcats won their 16th consecutive home opener on Monday night with a 3-1 victory over Cal State Bakersfield and are looking to wrap up nonconference play with another strong Varney’s Invitational at Ahearn Field House. K-State is 70-16-5 all-time in tournaments hosted at Ahearn Field House. Their last loss in a home tournament came to Minnesota Golden Gophers in 2005. The Gophers were ranked No. 5 at the time.

K-State is 57-3 at home against teams outside the Big 12 Conference since 1994. Only one of those losses came in the regular season when K-State fell to No. 5 Minnesota in 2005 during the Varney’s Kansas State Invitational. K-State is 173-27-4 (.848) in 33 years of non-conference volleyball in Ahearn Field House. Head coach Suzie Fritz is 28-3 (.903) against nonconference opponents in Ahearn Field House.

After playing  on the road for two tournaments at Purdue and Portland, the Wildcats have posted a 6-1 record before returning to Manhattan with their only loss coming at the hands of then-ranked No. 25 Purdue. The Boilermakers bested K-State in four sets.

The Series
This weekend’s Varney’s Kansas State Invitational will mark the first-ever meeting between the Wildcats and the Big Red of Cornell and Lady Flames of Liberty.

K-State holds the advantage over Northern Iowa with a 5-3-1 record against the Panthers. The Wildcats have won the last three matches with UNI, including a 3-0 win over the Panthers in last year’s Varney’s Kansas State Invitational.

The Coaches
Kansas State: Suzie Fritz (Florida Atlantic 94) is in her eighth season leading the Wildcats. She holds the highest winning percentage in school history and is 15 wins shy of taking the top spot at K-State.

Cornell: Deitre Collins-Parker (Hawaii, 95) has taken the Big Red to the NCAA Tournament twice in her four years at Cornell amassing a record of 63-40. Her career record over 12 years is 152-76.

Liberty: Shane Pinder (Luther Rice Seminary 04) is in his fifth year with the Liberty Flames and coached the team to its fourth Big South Conference Championship and NCAA Tournament appearance last year.

Northern Iowa: Bobbi Peterson (Northern Iowa 89) is in her ninth year coaching her alma mater and taken the Panthers to five NCAA Tournaments. She was the 2002 AVCA National Coach of the Year.

On the Airwaves
K-State matches from the tournament will be broadcast on 1350 KMAN with Brian Smoller calling the action and KMAN’s Rob Voelker with color commentary.

The matches will also be webcast and fans can catch the action by logging into the Powercat Passport at www.k-statesports.com. Fans can also sign up for the service on the site and monthly packages are available. Live stats will be available for all matches on the athletic department’s site as well.

Scouting the Big Red
Cornell comes into the Varney’s Kansas State Invitational with a clean slate as the Big Red is yet to play a match in 2008. Last year Cornell finished with a 9-16 record and finished fifth in the Ivy League.

The Big Red are led by Emily Borman on the attack, returning with 2.38 kps last year and leading the team in blocks at 1.08 bps to boot. Megan Mushovic returns at libero to sure up the defense with more than six digs a set as a sophomore.

Cornell has reached the NCAA Tournament twice in the last four years (2005, 2006) since head coach Deitre Collins-Parker took over the program.

Scouting the Lady Flames
Liberty advanced to its four NCAA Tournament last year claiming the Big South Conference regular season and tournament titles. The Lady Flames are led by Nicki Scripko at 3.09 kps and Kallie Corbin with 9.96 assists. Corbin was named the Big South Tournament MVP for her efforts in leading Liberty to its fourth conference title. Scripko was selected as the Big South Freshman of the Year as well.

The Lady Flames enter this weekend undefeated at 7-0 after winning two tournaments and defeating James Madison. The team is holding its opponents to a hitting percentage of just .165 while the Flames are hitting .281. Liberty is out-digging and -blocking its opponents as well and averaging more than two blocks a set.

Scouting the Panthers
Northern Iowa also comes to Manhattan with an unblemished record after defeating Iowa State on Wednesday. The Panthers advanced to their 13th NCAA Tournament last year receiving an at-large berth. It was the fifth time in seven years UNI reached the postseason.

The Panthers are led by middle blocker Ashten Stelken with 3.59 kps and 1.32 bps. She is hitting at a .432 clip as well. Shannon Aschoff leads the team in kills with 3.78 kps from the outside hitter position. Ellie Blankenship is digging at a rate of six per set to sure up the back line for the Panthers.

Catching Up with the Cats
The Wildcats needed four sets to outrun the Roadrunners of Cal State Bakersfield on Monday before closing the door and winning their 16th straight home opener.

Kelsey Chipman received the team’s first Big 12 award of the season being named Offensive Player of the Week for her performance at the Nike Portland Invitational. The junior middle blocker was perfect for the weekend without a single hitting error. Chipman had 35 kills on the weekend and hit an outstanding .515 over the four-match stretch. She also contributed heavily at the net with 18 total blocks, including two solo stuffs. Chipman also had three aces, two of which came in a late stretch against South Florida to help seal the win. She followed up Portland and her Big 12 honor by hitting a season-high .706 with 12 kills and again no errors for the fifth straight match.

Senior outside hitter Rita Liliom continues to pound out kills leading the Big 12 with 4.48 kps. She has had double-digit kills in every match this season and led the way with 21 against Cal State Bakersfield on Monday.

Nataly Korobkova has also been a leader for the Wildcats averaging 3.48 kps. She also had her first double-double of the season with 11 kills and 10 digs against the Roadrunners. She was named MVP of the Nike Portland Invitational when she averaged 3.5 kps, including a 17-kill performance against UC Irvine to open the event. She hit .333 for the weekend and also was a force at the net with 14 total blocks.

Liliom and Chipman also earned all-tournament from the coaches at the Nike Portland Invitational, and Liliom joined Korobkova on the Mortar Board Premier All-Tournament Team at Purdue to open the season.