Sports Extra: Pelger Playing at MVP-Level

Kaitlynn Pelger has been a potent all-around player this season.

Sept. 12, 2011

Click here to subscribe to K-State Sports Extra

By Mark Janssen

The phrase “sophomore jinx” occasionally comes up in the world of sports, but Kansas State volleyball ace Kaitlynn Pelger says the possibility of such a down year never entered her mind.

“Not at all,” said the K-State middle blocker. “I’m playing the game to win matches and don’t think about individual things at all.”

A member of last year’s Big 12 All-Freshman team, Pelger is playing even better this fall, and maybe never better than at this past weekend’s Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Invitational in Springfield, Mo., where she earned Most Valuable Player honors.    

The Olathe South High School product totaled 54 kills, hit a whopping .459, plus averaged 0.42 aces, 1.50 digs and 1.92 blocks in sweeping Missouri State, Hofstra and South Dakota State. The trio of wins boosts the K-State record to 7-3 heading into tonight’s match at 6 against Drake University in Ahearn Field House.

Associate head coach Jeff Grove said of Pelger’s improvement from her rookie season, “She’s taken on so much more responsibility after playing defense just one rotation last year. Now we’re asking her to play all six rotations and be the go-to player every night and the one we want to step forward in crunch time.”

On her own play this season, Pelger said, “My blocking and digging the ball have definitely improved. It’s not an area I really focused on in high school because everything came so easily. The most positive thing about my play is my offense, but my biggest growth has come on defense. Offense comes pretty easily, but defense not as easy.”

Surprisingly, Pelger says today that her biggest on-court thrill comes on the defensive side.
“The best feeling I get is not with a kill, but a good block makes me feel so good,” said Pelger, who had a career-high of 26 kills, plus six solo blocks in last Friday’s 3-2 win over Missouri State. “That’s what really gets me excited.”

A year ago the 6-foot-0 Pelger averaged 2.90 kills per set, which included 14 matches with at least 10 kills. She also had at least five blocks seven times and became the first freshman in K-State history to have a triple-triple season with 328 kills, 134 digs and 100 blocks helping her to the All-Freshman honors.

“Things like that are pretty cool and a great honor, but now it’s something to try to live up to,” said Pelger. “But honestly, it’s all about team wins. I don’t think about records unless someone mentions something to me.”

Grove adds, “She’s understanding how teams are trying to defend her. She has tremendous range as a hitter and is really tough to stop unless you commit two blockers to her.”

Just one-quarter into the 2011 season, Pelger has 163 kills, or 4.53 per set with a hitting percentage of .375, which has helped the Wildcats win their last three matches.

Pelger and the Wildcats want to keep that roll going after finishing the 2010 season just 6-14 in the Big 12 and 12-19 overall.

“That’s serving to motivate us. We’re not that team,” said Pelger, who chose K-State over Texas A&M and Missouri during the recruiting process. “I firmly believe we can play with those good teams in the Big 12. We can be in the top two or three.

“We’re really clicking on offense. When we’re good, we’re really good, but I think we can still get better,” said Pelger. “We didn’t make the (NCAA) tournament last year and that hurt a lot. As a freshman you don’t realize the importance until you talk to older girls who have been there. We need to get back to that level.”

Pelger’s play has been at the highest level throughout her brilliant athletic career. At Olathe South she was a good enough soccer player to have scholarship interest from Tulsa, but as she said, “Soccer is too slow and harder to watch. Volleyball has a faster pace.”

Pelger says she was always the tallest girl in her class, but really took off in her sophomore year when she jumped up four inches to six-feet tall.    

“It never bothered me too much, maybe a little when I was younger, but it’s now just who I am,” said Pelger, who has a 13-year-old sister, Allison, who is on pace to be even taller and is talented in volleyball, soccer and basketball, plus a 5-5 sister, Emily, who excels in gymnastics. Laughing, she added of being tall, “It’s worked out for me in volleyball.”

Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Invitational Note: Along with taking the team title, Pelger was joined by Lilla Porubek and Caitlyn Donahue on the all-tournament team.

We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact either Mark Janssen or Kansas State Director of Athletics Communications/SID Kenny Lannou. For those who would like to share Sports Extra with a friend or family member, or change your current email address, click here.