Top Teams on Slate in Tulsa

Kuulei Kabalis

Sept. 12, 2012

Complete K-State Notes Get Acrobat Reader -- Tournament Central

MANHATTAN, Kan. – K-State volleyball travels this weekend to the Golden Hurricane Classic, which will feature four teams that reached the NCAA Tournament last year and three currently ranked in the AVCA Top 25 Coaches Poll. It will be the premier tournament of the week in the country as No. 19 K-State will take on the likes of No. 10 Minnesota and No. 20 Dayton as well as the hosting Tulsa Golden Hurricane.

The Wildcats enter the tournament with a perfect 9-0 record, the best start to a season in school history, and climbed three spots this week in the AVCA poll and look to add more quality wins to their resume. All four teams at the Golden Hurricane Classic have played challenging schedules to this point in the season and this weekend’s tournament will only add to their strength.

Dayton jumped into the poll two weeks ago after opening the season with wins over two ranked teams. Minnesota has been ranked from the start of the season like K-State and steadily climbed thanks to losses from other teams and a win over No. 4 Texas on the road last week. Tulsa was receiving votes earlier in the season and has wins against four NCAA Tournament teams so far this year.

K-State opens the tournament on Thursday night against Tulsa at 7 p.m. from the Reynolds Center. The Wildcats and Golden Gophers will tangle for the first time since 2009 on Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. and then face Dayton at 11 a.m. Saturday.

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 for free with live audio streaming and

Every match of the Golden Hurricane Classic will be available online through Tulsa’s Hurricane Vision at Tulsa has agreed to provide K-State with its online feed, allowing subscribers of K-StateHD.TV to watch all the matches as well. Subscriptions to K-StateHD.TV are available for one month at $9.95 or a full year at $79.95.

Live stats will be available through Tulsa also has a tournament central page online.

The Series
Tulsa: K-State leads the series with the Golden Hurricane 23-2 with Tulsa winning the first meeting in 1974 and last in 1991. The Wildcats won the last meeting in 2007 when K-State defeated Tulsa 3-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Minnesota: The Golden Gophers have won 15 of their 17 meetings with the Wildcats. K-State’s only wins came in 1977 and 1979. This week will be the fourth meeting in the last nine years between the two teams. Minnesota and K-State opened the 2009 season against each other at the Runza/AVCA Showcase in Omaha, Neb.

Dayton: This is only the second meeting between the Flyers and Wildcats. Dayton won the only previous meeting in 1978 by the score of 2-1.

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

Tulsa: Steven McRoberts is in his second year leading the Golden Hurricane. He took over a program that has seen much success in Conference USA and won the conference title and was named AVCA Midwest Region Coach of the Year his first year with Tulsa.

Minnesota: Hugh McCutcheon takes over the Golden Gophers after the retirement of long-time coach Mike Hebert in 2010 and Laura Bush served as interim coach in 2011. McCutcheon signed to become Minnesota’s coach following the 2010 and took over the program when his duties as head coach of the USA National Women’s Team were completed this summer where he guided USA to a silver medal at the London Olympics. He also coached the men’s national team to a gold in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Dayton: Kelly Sheffield is in his fifth year coaching the Flyers. He has led them to the NCAA Tournament each of his first four years and posted the team’s first undefeated season in Atlantic 10 Conference play in 2010. The Flyers have only lost four conference matches in his four seasons so far.

Scouting the Golden Hurricane
Tulsa is again the favorite to win the Conference USA Championship in 2012 after reaching the NCAA Tournament the last two years and three of the last five. The Golden Hurricane has one of the nation’s top players as well in outside hitter Tyler Henderson.

Henderson has been named AVCA All-America second team each of the last two seasons and is the back-to-back Conference USA Player of the Year. She is currently No. 1 in the nation in kills averaging 5.50 kills per set. She is one of only four players in the country averaging at least 5.00 kills. Henderson is one of three major weapons utilized by Tulsa, with Kellie Culbertson (2.88) and Diana Silva (2.38) next in kills. The trio of Henderson, Culbertson and Silva takes nearly 73 percent of Tulsa’s swings .

Culbertson is one of the top servers in the country with 21 aces already through 42 sets played. She also plays a big role on the back row with 3.55 digs per set to rank second on the team behind libero Jessica Adams’ 4.74.  Silva also is a strong defender with 3.50 digs.

Tulsa has played a challenging nonconference schedule to open the season traveling to tournaments hosted by Oklahoma and Kansas. The Golden Hurricane fell to both of those Big 12 teams in tightly contested matches.

Scouting the Golden Gophers
Minnesota is again among the top teams in the country under new head coach Hugh McCutcheon. The Golden Gophers are ranked No. 10 this week after splitting two matches on the road at then-No. 2 Texas. Minnesota is led offensively by Katherine Harms and Tori Dixon, both are among the national leaders at their positions.

Harms is a senior outside hitter and is ranked 23rd in the nation in kills, averaging 4.33 per set. She also is hitting at an extremely efficient rate for her position at .420. Dixon is a junior middle blocker and has the highest hitting percentage in the nation at .551. Dixon is posting 3.70 kills per set and is the team’s leading blocker at 1.11 per set.

Slowing Harms and Dixon will be key for the Wildcats, but Minnesota as a team has the highest hitting percentage in NCAA Division I at .355. Three of the Gophers’ main offensive players are hitting at least .310. Because of that efficiency, Minnesota also ranks third in the nation in kills at 15.38 per set through Sunday’s matches.

Scouting the Flyers
Dayton is one of the nation’s top teams from a mid-major conference. The Flyers are regulars at the NCAA Tournament, going eight of the last nine years. They also are no strangers to cracking the AVCA Top 25. This season, the Flyers climbed as high as No. 10 in last week’s poll after opening the season with wins over two ranked opponents.

The Flyers are led by senior outside hitter Rachel Krabacher, who ranks 13th in the nation at 4.58 kills per set. Last season she was AVCA All-America honorable mention and became the seventh Flyer in the last nine years to be named Atlantic 10 Conference Player of the Year. Krabacher posted 26 kills on a .317 clip with 12 digs in the Flyers’ first loss of the season to Ohio State last week at Western Kentucky’s tournament.

Dayton is one of the top offenses in the country as well ranking 24th as a team in both kills (14.38) and hitting (.275).

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
The Wildcats have opened the season in impressive fashion with a 9-0 start, and eight of those wins coming in 3-0 sweeps of their opponents. Eight sweeps is the most among teams ranked in the Top 25, with No. 4 Washington also posting eight 3-0 wins. Last season, K-State totaled eight 3-0 sweeps for the entire year.

K-State’s offense and defense have both proven to be among the nation’s best this season as well. The Wildcats are hitting .273 as a team to rank 27th in the first NCAA statistical rankings of the season released Monday. That high hitting percentage has resulted in a kill rate of 14.48 per set to stand 23rd in the nation. The Wildcats are also posting 13.45 assists per set to rank 22nd. The Wildcats have put up a wall against their opponents this year to an average of 2.93 blocks per set. That mark ranks 14th in the nation. The Wildcats shot up the rankings this week as they averaged an impressive 4.33 blocks per set in three sweeps at home last week against Missouri State, Saint Mary’s and Utah State.

Individually, the Wildcats have some of the top talent in the nation as well. Senior middle blocker Alex Muff has proven to be one of the best at her position defensively as she is currently fourth in the nation in blocks per set, averaging 1.67. Last week, Muff averaged 2.00 blocks per set.

Senior setter Caitlyn Donahue is again one of the leading setters in the Big 12 Conference and the nation. She currently stands 12th on the NCAA list averaging 11.79 assists per set. Her guidance as the setter has helped the Wildcats’ offense rank high in kills and hitting percentage.

Junior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger is another Wildcat making noise on the national scene for K-State. After earning AVCA All-America honorable mention last year, Pelger is currently 42nd in the nation in aces and is just off the pace of ranking in points per set, as she is one of the team’s top contributors in kills, aces and blocks.

Storming Out of the Gates
K-State is off to its best start in school history. With three more victories last week, the Wildcats are a perfect 9-0 to open the 2012 campaign. The nine straight wins to open the season surpasses the 8-0 starts of 2005 and 1988. The Wildcats have racked up those wins against some quality competition defeating a Creighton team on its home court that was receiving votes in the AVCA Coaches Poll at the time. K-State also defeated Missouri State in three sets in Ahearn Field House. The Bears went to the NCAA Tournament last season.

In K-State’s previous two 8-0 starts 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.

K-State Ranked No. 19
With the best start in school history at 9-0, the Wildcats climbed three spots this week in the AVCA Coaches Poll to No. 19. It marks the highest ranking for the Wildcats this season and the highest since being ranked No. 16 heading into the 2008 NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats opened the 2012 season ranked No. 22 in the AVCA Preseason Coaches Poll and have hovered around that ranking through the first three weeks of action.

The Big 12 Conference is well represented in this week’s poll again with two other teams from the conference ranked in the Top 25. Defending conference champion Texas comes in at No. 6 after splitting two matches with Minnesota at home last week. Iowa State dropped to No. 25 after falling to unranked Syracuse at home in five sets. Oklahoma gives the league another team on the radar with the Sooners listed among the other teams receiving votes.

K-State’s nonconference schedule boasts a number of quality opponents with Minnesota moving up to No. 10 this week after the split with Texas. Dayton shot up the rankings two weeks ago and fell this week to No. 20 after two losses to teams receiving votes in the poll. The Wildcats play the Golden Gophers and Flyers at Tulsa’s Golden Hurricane Classic this week. The Golden Hurricane was receiving votes in the poll until this week after losing to Arkansas and Kansas at KU’s tournament two weeks ago.

Creighton and Oregon State are also listed among teams receiving votes this week. K-State swept Creighton at its home tournament and defeated Oregon State in an exciting five-set match to win the Varney’s Invitational at Ahearn Field House the opening weekend of the season.

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 2012 season as been no different with the Wildcats ranked No. 18 in the first NCAA attendance report of the season.

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 past weekend, nearly 2,000 fans took advantage of the Wildcat Weekend and cheered K-State to victory over Utah State after watching the football team defeat Miami earlier in the day. K-State is averaging just under 1,600 fans per match this season with conference action set to start soon.

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. A new media center has been installed as well for journalists to cover matches for their respective media outlets.

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 Texas and 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.