Wildcats Open Big 12 Play at Oklahoma

Alex Muff

Sept. 18, 2012

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State volleyball takes its perfect record on the road Wednesday to open Big 12 Conference action as the 12-0 Wildcats take on the Oklahoma Sooners in McCasland Field House at 7 p.m. The Wildcats are looking to remain undefeated and continue the best start to a season in school history. They also are looking to snap a four-match losing streak on the road to the Sooners with their last victory in McCasland coming in 2008 in a five-set thriller.

The Wildcats enter the match following an exciting weekend at the Golden Hurricane Classic hosted by Tulsa that saw K-State defeat No. 10 Minnesota in five sets and sweep No. 20 Dayton to win the tournament and shoot up to No. 11 in the AVCA Coaches Poll come Monday. Kaitlynn Pelger earned her second tournament MVP award of the season and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Kathleen Ludwig and Caitlyn Donahue as well.

Oklahoma has played a challenging nonconference schedule again this season facing eight NCAA Tournament teams. The Sooners defeated five of those teams, including an upset over No. 19 Kentucky at a tournament hosted by Nebraska. All three of Oklahoma’s losses have come to tournament teams.

K-State is not only looking for its first victory at Oklahoma since 2008, it is looking to snap a seven-match winning streak for the Sooners in home matches dating back to last year’s final home match of the season against Texas Tech on November 23.

On The Tube
K-State’s Big 12 opener against the Oklahoma Sooners on Wednesday night will be televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma at 7 p.m.

On The Airwaves
Wednesday can be heard live on KMAN 1350 with Rob Voelker calling the action. The match will be available live through kstatesports.com for free with live audio streaming and 1350kman.com.

Live stats will be available via GameTracker at soonersports.com and kstatesports.com.

The Series
Oklahoma leads the all-time series 49-26-1, but K-State has dominated since the inception of the Big 12 Conference winning 20 of the 32 matches. The Sooners have had the advantage the last few years winning five of the last six. K-State snapped a five-match losing streak to OU last year in Ahearn Field House in an exciting five-set match. The Wildcats have not won in Norman since a 3-2 victory in 2008.

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

Oklahoma: Santiago Restrepo (East Stroudsburg ‘86) is in his ninth year leading the Sooners where he has turned the program into a regular NCAA Tournament team. Oklahoma has been to the postseason five of the last six years and reached the Regional Semifinals in 2010.

Scouting the Sooners
Oklahoma lost a lot of its main weapons and setter from a year ago to graduation, but the Sooners are still one of the top teams in the Big 12 with some young talent making an impact last season and continuing to do so this year on the court with sophomore outside hitter Tara Dunn leads the way with 2.76 kills set.

The Sooners are breaking in a new setter this year after the graduation of Brianne Barker. Freshman Julia Doyle is averaging 9.90 assists to per set and is guiding the Sooners to a team hitting percentage of .233, which ranks seventh in the deep Big 12 Conference. Doyle is spreading the ball around on the offense with five Sooners averaging more than 2.10 kills per set.

Oklahoma has played a challenging nonconference schedule and enters Big 12 play 11-3 overall. All of the Sooners’ losses came to team who reached the NCAA Tournament last season, and two were ranked at the time. The Sooners have racked up five wins over NCAA Tournament teams, including then-No. 19 Kentucky in four sets at Nebraska’s home tournament.

Defense is Oklahoma’s strong suit as the Sooners rank No. 2 in the Big 12 in digs per set at 15.86 and third in blocks averaging 2.94 per set. In a victory over New Mexico at home on Saturday, Oklahoma posted 46 digs to limit the Lobos to just .071 hitting. Senior libero Maria Fernanda posted 13 digs and is second in the league averaging 5.06 digs per set and is climbing the career digs list in Big 12 history. If she were to break the big 12 single season record for digs, she would move into first on the career list.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
The Wildcats are among the top teams in the nation so far this season with a perfect 12-0 record heading into Big 12 Conference play this week. K-State has defeated two ranked opponents and another that was receiving votes in the poll at the time. The wins over No. 10 Minnesota and No. 20 Dayton marked the first time in school history the Wildcats have won back-to-back matches against ranked opponents on the schedule. In 2003, K-State did win matches over multiple ranked opponents without losing but other matches were played in between those victories.

K-State’s offense and defense have both proven to be among the nation’s best this season as well. The Wildcats are hitting .265 as a team to rank 34th in the latest NCAA statistical rankings of the season released Monday night. That high hitting percentage has resulted in a kill rate of 14.02 per set to stand 42nd in the nation. The Wildcats are also posting 13.20 assists per set to rank 34th. The Wildcats have put up a wall against their opponents this year to an average of 2.90 blocks per set. That mark ranks 16th in the nation. The Wildcats have posted at least 10 blocks in five matches.

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 10th in the nation in blocks per set, averaging 1.54.

Senior setter Caitlyn Donahue is again one of the leading setters in the Big 12 Conference and the nation. She currently stands 15th on the NCAA list averaging 11.65 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 26th 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.

Pelger Honored by AVCA
After helping the K-State volleyball team win the Golden Hurricane Classic and defeat to ranked teams last week at Tulsa, junior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger has been selected as the AVCA National Player of the Week. Pelger averaged 4.18 kills while hitting .440 in victories over Tulsa, No. 10 Minnesota and No. 20 Dayton to earn the award. In addition to her kills and hit hitting percentage for the weekend, Pelger added 2.45 digs per set and 1.09 blocks and her five aces led the team.

Pelger becomes the first Wildcat since Dawn Cady in 1999 to receive the nation’s top player of the week award after Cady guided the Wildcats to their first-ever win over Nebraska. This is the fourth AVCA National Player of the Week in K-State history with Kate DeClerk winning it in 1995 and again in 1996.

Perfect Company
It is not often that midway through September an athletics department can claim to be undefeated in its major fall sports, but K-State can do that this year. The football team is a perfect 3-0 and ranked No. 15 heading into this weekend’s game at No. 6 Oklahoma, and the No. 11-ranked volleyball team is 12-0. Only three other schools can boast the same accomplishment so far -- Northwestern, Oregon and South Carolina.

Northwestern is 3-0 in football and 11-0 in volleyball with both teams receiving votes in their respective polls. Oregon also is 3-0 in football and ranked No. 3, while the Ducks are 9-0 in volleyball and ranked No. 8. South Carolina is No. 7 in football at 3-0 and the Gamecocks volleyball team is 13-0.

Twelve schools are having strong seasons in football and volleyball thus far with both teams being ranked in the Top 25. K-State is one of two Big 12 schools to have football and volleyball both ranked. The Pac-12 has the most at four schools. Oregon and Stanford are the only schools with their programs both in the Top 10.

There are a total of eight volleyball teams still undefeated four weeks into the season and with conference play approaching, many of the teams will have to face each other as three are from the Pac-12 and two hail from the Big Ten Conference.

Cleaning Up
K-State is off to its best start in school history at 12-0, but the way the Wildcats have been winning is just as impressive. A total of 10 of those victories have been 3-0 sweeps of their opponents. That total already surpasses last year’s seven sweeps and is tied with Central Arkansas for the most of any team in the nation. K-State has more sweeps than undefeated Washington (9), USC (9), Oregon (7), BYU (9) and Michigan State (9). Central Arkansas is 12-1 so far. Washington is yet to lose a set this season.

The 3-0 sweeps have come against strong competition as well. The Wildcats swept Creighton on the Bluejays’ home court while the team was receiving votes in the poll. K-State swept 2011 NCAA Tournament teams Missouri State and Tulsa, as well as No. 20 Dayton. Some opponents K-State swept earlier in the season have responded with signature wins as well. Oregon State defeated No. 2 Penn State in five sets, and Syracuse bested No. 23 Iowa State on the Cyclones’ home floor.

K-State Ranked No. 11
The Wildcats are off to the best start in school history at 12-0 and after winning the Golden Hurricane Classic while defeating two ranked teams in the process last weekend, the K-State volleyball team has climbed eight spots in the latest AVCA Coaches Top 25 Poll to No. 11. The Wildcats were the big movers this week in the poll and it marks the highest ranking for K-State since being ranked No. 11 on Nov. 26, 2007.

The Wildcats swept hosting Tulsa at the tournament on Thursday evening followed with a dramatic 3-2 win over then-No. 10 Minnesota on Friday afternoon. K-State closed the tournament with a sweep of then-ranked No. 20 Dayton that saw the team hit .352 overall highlighted by Kaitlynn Pelger’s .654 hitting percentage with 19 kills.

At the Golden Hurricane Classic, Pelger earned tournament MVP and was joined on the Golden Hurricane Classic All-Tournament Team by Kathleen Ludwig and Caitlyn Donahue.

Three Big 12 teams continue to be ranked as Texas drops three spots to No. 9 after losing to then-No. 23 Illinois at home last week. Iowa State jumps from No. 25 to No. 19 after upsetting No. 1 Nebraska in Ames on Saturday in five sets. Oklahoma remains among the teams listed as receiving votes.

Minnesota and Dayton are still ranked with the Golden Gophers dropping two spots to No. 12 and Dayton falling to No. 22. Two more of K-State’s nonconference opponents are receiving votes. Oregon State is just outside the Top 25 as the leading vote getter with 63 points in the poll. Creighton also is receiving votes with 34 points.

Pelger Named Big 12 Player of the Week
K-State won what was tabbed by many as the top tournament in the nation last week claiming three wins at the Golden Hurricane Classic in Tulsa, and junior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger walked away with tournament MVP honors and has now been recognized by the Big 12 Conference as the Offensive Player of the Week.

Pelger played a major role in defeating ranked opponents in back-to-back matches for the first time in school history as the Wildcats bested No. 10 Minnesota in five sets on Friday and followed that win with a victory over No. 20 Dayton at arguably the top nonconference tournament in the nation last week.

Pelger opened the tournament with a double-double as she posted 11 kills on a .455 hitting percentage to go with 12 digs against Tulsa. She also was in on five block assists as the Wildcats stuffed Tulsa for 14.5 blocks, the fourth straight match K-State posted 10 or more blocks.

 Against the Golden Gophers, Pelger played a huge role down the stretch as she led the team with 16 kills. She also added nine digs, five blocks and three aces. Four of her kills came in the shortened fifth set alone as K-State hit an amazing .818 as a team with nine kills and no errors to dominate Minnesota in the deciding set. To close the weekend, Pelger put on a show against No. 20 Dayton.

The middle blocker pounded out 19 kills and hit an impressive .654 to roll over the Flyers. Pelger opened the match with eight kills on nine swings in the first set. Against Dayton, Pelger also had six digs, two blocks and a pair of aces. For the weekend she averaged 4.18 kills per set while hitting .440 against some of the top teams in the nation. Pelger added 2.45 digs and 1.09 blocks and her five aces led the team.

This is Pelger’s first Big 12 Player of the Week award this season and her fourth overall, receiving Rookie of the Week once in 2010 and Offensive Player of the Week twice last season. Kristen Hahn earned Defensive Player of the Week for Iowa State as the libero helped the Cyclones defeat No. 1 Nebraska on Saturday, and Nikki Attea was named the Rookie of the Week for West Virginia.

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. 19 in this week’s NCAA attendance report.

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 fewer than 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.

Family Business
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.