Wildcats Ready for West Coast Swing

Caitlyn Donahue

Sept. 14, 2011

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – The Kansas State volleyball team will play in its final nonconference tournament this week when the Wildcats head to the West Coast to take on the likes of Sacramento State, Utah Valley and host Saint Mary’s. The Wildcats enter the tournament on a four-match winning streak after defeating Drake in five sets on Monday night, and are looking to head into Big 12 Conference action with more momentum.

K-State will first face the Hornets of Sacramento State at 5 p.m. Pacific on Thursday from the McKeon Pavilion on the campus of Saint Mary’s. First serve against Utah Valley is set for 5 p.m. Friday as well, and the Wildcats close the week’s action against the Gaels at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Wildcats have never played any of the teams they will face in this week’s tournament.

The Wildcats will face three strong programs during the tournament as Saint Mary’s and Sacramento State have made reaching the NCAA Tournament a regular occurrence. Saint Mary’s has been in three of the last six years since head coach Rob Browning took over the program. The Gaels have long been a tournament team with five NCAA appearances in the last eight years. Saint Mary’s is currently receiving votes in the latest AVCA Coaches Top 25 Poll despite the Gaels losing record as their strength of schedule is among the toughest this season facing three ranked opponents already. Sacramento State made six straight NCAA Tournaments from 2002-07 and has made 11 total dating back to 1997. Utah Valley moved to the Division I level in 2003 after seeing much success prior and has posted 20 or more wins the last two seasons.

On The Airwaves
Thursday’s match will be aired live on KMAN 1350 with Rob Voelker calling the action while Friday and Saturday will be tape delayed. All the matches can be heard live, however, online at kstatesports.com for free.

The audio broadcast from 1350 KMAN will be available for free online at kstatesports.com of all matches. Live stats will be provided via Saint Mary’s website and can be found at smcgaels.com. Live video also will be available at smcgaels.com for a monthly fee.

The Series
Kansas State has never played any of the other teams participating in this weekend’s tournament.

The Coaches
Kansas State: Suzie Fritz (Florida Atlantic ’94) is in her 11th year as head coach and recently reached the 200-win milestone. The 3-2 win at Missouri State on Thursday was her 200th. Her career record of 203-119 gives her a winning percentage of .630.

Sacramento State: Ruben Volta (Sacramento State ‘93) is in his fourth year as the head coach at his alma mater where he looks to return the Hornets to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. He served on the staff as an assistant under longtime coach Debby Colberg and helped lead the team to eight straight Big Sky Championships and seven NCAA Tournaments.

Saint Mary’s: Rob Browning (BYU ‘90) is in his seventh year leading the Gaels where he has developed the program into a Top 25 team. 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 six years.

Utah Valley: Sam Atoa (BYU ‘88) is in his 13th heading the Wolverines where he oversaw the program’s transition to the Division I level in 2003. Utah Valley has tallied 20 or more wins three of the last four years.

Scouting the Hornets
The Hornets are 5-5 this season after falling to UC Davis on Tuesday night in five sets. Sacramento State has played a number of challenging matches opening against a Western Kentucky team that is receiving votes in the poll. Last weekend, the Hornets played at No. 1 California’s home tournament falling to the Golden Bears in three while defeating Nevada and Georgetown in four sets.

Sacramento State is led by senior outside hitter Eryn Kirby with 2.66 kills per set. The senior is also one of the team’s top defensive players as she contributes 2.32 digs per set to a team that averages 17.84 per set to rank eighth in the nation. The Hornets have six players who average more than 2.00 digs a set led by libero Breanne Menees at 4.77, who is 64th in the nation individually.

The Hornets also are a strong blocking team averaging 2.47 per set ranking 55th in the nation. Olivia Moss tallies 1.38 blocks per set but has only played in 21 of 38 sets this season. The team does not have one standout blocker but has a trio of players above 0.85 blocks in addition to Moss.

Scouting the Wolverines
The Wolverines are entering this week’s tournament with an 8-3 record after going 2-1 at Air Force’s tournament last weekend. Utah Valley also has played some strong nonconference opponents taking on No. 24 Michigan and traditional power Cal Poly in the Wolverines’ home tournament. Another regular NCAA Tournament, Santa Clara, played in the tournament with Utah Valley getting the win. Utah Valley also defeated Cal Poly in five sets.

Utah Valley has three players averaging at least 2.00 kills per set led by sophomore outside hitter Lindsay Barker at 2.64. She is joined by Chelsey Heaps (2.59 kps) and Erica Nish (2.02) as the top offensive threats for the Wolverines.

Utah Valley is another strong blocking team at this week’s tournament as the Wolverines are averaging 2.50 per set. Middle blockers Nish and Sarah Clement are both averaging more than a block a set at 1.26 and 1.12, respectively. Nish recently posted a solo stuff and 12 block assists in a 2-3 loss to Northern Arizona.

Scouting the Gaels
The Gaels are receiving votes in this week’s AVCA Top 25 Coaches Poll and have been all season. Saint Mary’s has played a tough nonconference schedule to open the season with matches against No. 8 Illinois and traditional power BYU at the Cougars’ home tournament. Saint Mary’s then lost a tight match with Cal Poly, who was receiving votes at the time followed by a win over then-No. 18 Duke that saw the Gaels dominate the fifth set 15-4. Saint Mary’s also posted another quality win over a Notre Dame team that was also receiving votes. Last week, Saint Mary’s defeated Weber State before falling to No. 11 Nebraska and 2010 NCAA Tournament team Creighton at Nebraska’s tournament.

Saint Mary’s is led by junior outside hitter Lauren Corp at 3.59 kills a set and a .222 hitting percentage. Corp is a strong defender as well adding 2.76 digs a set to the team’s defense. Jordan Shaw also is averaging 3.30 kills per set but did not play last week at Nebraska. Middle blocker Gabby Jolly contributes 2.30 kills on a .272 hitting clip and is one of the team’s top blockers at 0.91 a set.

The Gaels have a strong defense with five players averaging more than 2.20 digs a set. Libero Sarah Reems leads the way with a 4.15 average. Joining her and Corp on that list is setter Missy White (2.24), outside hitter Samantha Tinsley (2.43) and Shaw (2.48).

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
The Wildcats are coming off four straight victories following their win over Drake on Monday and claiming the championship at the Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Invitational last weekend. K-State completed their sweep of the Missouri Valley Conference defeating all three teams from the conference on its schedule. The win over the Bulldogs on Monday was the third after beating Missouri State and Creighton earlier. All three of the matches went to five sets.

K-State had some big numbers against Drake with a total of 72 kills on 69 assist and 97 digs. The Wildcats saw sophomore middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger put together another performance for the record books with a career-high 32 kills. The mark ranks fifth in school history for a five-set match. Her 35 points (32 kills, 2 solo blocks, 2 blocks assists) rank third in school history. Pelger became the first player for K-State to post 30 or more kills in a match since Valli Hejjas had 30 against Baylor in 2004.

In the win on Monday, the defense was strong with four Wildcats posting 15 or more digs. In addition to her 32 kills, Pelger tied for the team lead with 18 digs, which also was a career-high. Libero Kuulei Kabalis also had 18 digs for the Wildcats. Junior setter Caitlyn Donahue and sophomore defensive specialist Tristan McCarty each had 17 digs. The mark was a career-high for McCarty as well. The performance marked Pelger’s fourth double-double of the season and Donahue’s third. They each were close to accomplishing the rare 20/20 double-double, which hasn’t happened at K-State since 2000.

Killer Kaitlynn
Kaitlynn Pelger is leading the Big 12 Conference in kills as she is averaging 4.76 kills per set through 11 matches this season. The sophomore middle blocker has already posted five matches with 20 or more kills, including 32 on Monday. One of those performances came in only three sets as well. Pelger has accomplished this feat efficiently as well as she leads the team in hitting percentage coming in at .363 and ranks seven in the league. Pelger also has five double-doubles to her name this season. She has two in K-State’s last four matches after posting 32 kills and 18 digs on Monday. Against Missouri State, she tallied 26 kills and 14 blocks.

Pelger has put her name in the record books a few times this season beginning with 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. Her 32 kills against Drake rank fifth in school history for a five-set match, and her six solo blocks against Missouri State tie for second in a five-set match as well.

She is among the top players at not only her position but in the entire conference this season as she leads the Big 12 in kills per set at 4.76. Second place in terms of average is Kansas’ Allison Mayfield, who is averaging 4.16. Missouri’s Lisa Henning has 154 total kills, which is 41 behind Pelger, and she has reached that total after playing three more sets than the Wildcats have.

Pelger also ranks among the conference leaders in hitting percentage at .363 (7th), aces (0.41, 3rd), blocks (1.17, 7th) and points (5.89, 1st). She is the only player in the conference to be ranked in the top 10 in five of the seven statistical categories.

“Por”ing it On
Sophomore outside hitter Lilla Porubek has continued where she left off her freshman campaign as she is averaging 3.22 kills per set and ranks seventh in the Big 12. She has posted 10 or more kills in every match but one thus far, including a career-high 16 against South Dakota. She accomplished that feat in just three sets, a mark she had previously reached in five sets against Kansas last season. The native of Hungary has become a go-to player for the Wildcats and also has come up with some key blocks early in the season. She had two solo blocks against Idaho to make an impact at the net defensively in the win.

Porubek recently earned her second all-tournament team honor of the season after averaging 3.42 kills during the Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Invitational at Missouri State. She also had contributed four aces during the tournament.

Setting the Table
Junior setter Caitlyn Donahue has grown more comfortable in her second year playing the role, and it is showing. Donahue currently leads the Big 12 in assists per set at 11.27 after improving her numbers at the Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Invitational. In the three wins, Donahue averaged 11.42 per set to raise her season average. She also averaged 2.08 digs per set and was third on the team in blocks at 0.92 per set to receive her first all-tournament team honor of the season.

Against Drake on Monday, Donahue reached a new career-high with 61 assists in the victory. She also played a key role defensively in the win with a season-high 17 digs to post her third double-double of the season.

One of her best matches this season came in a sweep over South Dakota State that saw her average 16.0 assists per set posting 48. Donahue also had 10 digs in the win over the Jackrabbits. She distributed the ball well to the hitters against South Dakota State as the Wildcats combined to hit .423 in the win.