Wildcats Open Big 12 Conference Play

Courtney Traxson

Sept. 22, 2011

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – The Kansas State volleyball team opens Big 12 Conference play this weekend when the Wildcats host the Baylor Bears at 7 p.m. Saturday in Ahearn Field House. The Wildcats are riding a seven-match winning streak coming into the contest and look to keep that momentum rolling as they being league action. Baylor is coming off a loss against No. 25 Oklahoma on Wednesday night.

In 2009, K-State also opened league play against the Bears and fell 1-3 in Waco, Texas. The Wildcats are looking to reverse that outcome to their first conference match this season. A win would boost the Wildcats’ record to 12-3 reaching their season total for wins last season midway through this year’s campaign.

Part of K-State’s early success this year can be credited to sophomore middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger. The Olathe South product is leading the Big 12 in kills averaging 4.73 per set and is fresh off her first Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week award after earning MVP honors last weekend at the Saint Mary’s Tournament. Pelger is the only player in the conference to rank in the top 10 in five of seven statistical categories within the league. Pelger also was recognized by College Volleyball Update this week as she was named the CVU.com National Player of the Week for her efforts against Drake and at the tournament at Saint Mary’s.

As conference play begins the battle for positioning within the standings will start. Every team in the league has a winning record heading into conference action. Three teams in the Big 12 are currently ranked in the AVCA Top 25 Coaches Poll. Texas stands at No. 8 while Iowa State dropped to No. 16 this week, and Oklahoma remains on the list at No. 25. Kansas, Texas A&M and Missouri are all receiving votes in the poll as well.

K-State is offering a Wildcat 4 Pack as a ticket promotion for the match. Fans may purchase four general admission bench seats for $40 and also receive four hot dots and four drinks included. For more information or to purchase tickets call the K-State Ticket Office at 800-221-2287. Tickets may also be purchased online at kstatesports.com/tickets.

On the Airwaves
Saturday’s match will be aired live on KMAN 1350 with Rob Voelker calling the action. KMAN’s pregame portion of the broadcast will be online only at 6:30. The match can be heard live online for free at kstatesports.com.

Saturday’s match will be aired on K-StateHD.TV for fans subscribing to the online network. The broadcast will feature a pregame show with Brian Smoller and former Wildcat All-American Liz Wegner-Busch. Pregame starts at 6:15 p.m. The play-by-play audio will be provided by 1350 KMAN with Rob Voelker calling the action.

The audio only broadcast from 1350 KMAN will be available for free online at kstatesports.com. Live stats will be provided via K-State’s website and can be found at kstatesports.com.

The Series
Kansas State leads the all-time series against Baylor 21-10. The two teams only met once prior to the inception of the Big 12 Conference. Baylor has won the last four contests. With their first win over the Wildcats last season, it marked the first time the Bears have won three in a row against K-State in the series.

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 206-119 gives her a winning percentage of .634.

Baylor: Jim Barnes (McNeese State ‘94) is in his eighth year leading the Bears where he has accumulated a record of 128-110 and took Baylor to the Regional Semifinals of the NCAA Tournament in 2009. Prior to coaching at Baylor he saw success at Wyoming and Lamar.

Scouting the Bears
Baylor comes into Ahearn Field House after losing at home to No. 25 Oklahoma to open Big 12 play on Wednesday night in four sets. The Bears are 11-4 on the year and are 2-2 on the road with wins at UNLV and Lamar. Baylor opened the year with a loss at No. 13 Purdue. Their other road loss came at TCU in three sets.

The Bears top player is middle blocker Torri Campbell. She is averaging 2.80 kills a set with a hitting percentage of .376. She also is leading the team in blocks with a 1.12 average. Campbell has four other players on the team averaging at least 2.10 kills a set with Briana Tolbert having the most total kills this season at 140 for an average of 2.64. Adri Nora averages 3.03 kills but has not played in all of Baylor’s sets. Alyssa Dibbern (2.13) and Zoe Adom (2.10) also are offensive threats for the Bears.

Baylor is again one of the top defensive teams in the Big12 this season averaging 17.15 digs per set to rank second in the league. Libero Allison King is second in the conference individually at 5.11 digs. She posted 19 digs in the loss to Oklahoma on Wednesday.

The Bears also have moved away from the 6-2 offense they ran last season and returned to the 5-1 system with just one setter directing the offense. Brittany Ridenour leads the way with 10.08 assist per set and has the team hitting .240 overall.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
K-State is currently 11-3 on the year. A win on Saturday would match the entire season total for 2010.  The Wildcats are riding a seven-match winning streak coming into Saturday’s match against Baylor. The last time the Wildcats won seven matches in a row was in 2008 when K-State won eight straight to close nonconference action. K-State has claimed wins over one NCAA Tournament team from last year and another team receiving votes in the AVCA Top 25 poll during this latest span of wins.

Last weekend the Wildcats won the Saint Mary’s Tournament with wins over Sacramento State, Utah Valley and host Saint Mary’s. K-State closed the tournament with two of its best matches of the season with a sweep over Utah Valley and a 3-1 win over Saint Mary’s that saw the Wildcats dominate the fourth set 25-14. Kaitlynn Pelger was named the tournament MVP and Caitlyn Donahue along with Kathleen Ludwig were named to the All-Tournament Team.

K-State is back among the top blocking teams in the nation thanks to the team’s average of 2.63 per set. The Wildcats currently stand 23rd in the nation in the statistic and have had eight matches so far with 10 or more blocks. The team posted a season-high 22 against Missouri State, a number that also ranks third in school history for a five-set match.

The Wildcats also rank in the top 50 nationally in aces with an average of 1.56 per set. Pelger leads the team individually with an average of 0.40 to rank in the top 100 in the NCAA. Pelger also ranks among the nation’s leaders in a number of other categories: Kills (12), Hitting Percentage (57), Blocks (69) and Points (3).

Pelger Earns Player of the Week Awards
Kaitlynn Pelger has been a dominant force for the Wildcats this year and she was recognized for her efforts at the Saint Mary’s Tournament and against Drake with her first Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week. Pelger averaged an impressive 5.19 kills per set over four matches to receive the award for the first time in her career. Her only previous Big 12 Player of the Week honor came following the final week of last season when she was recognized as the Big 12 Rookie of the Week.

It was not the only award for Pelger following the fourth week of the season. The middle blocker was also honored by College Volleyball Update for her strong showing. Pelger was named the CVU.com National Player of the Week. It marked the second time a Wildcat has received the honor with the first going to former setter Stacey Spiegelberg in 2006.

Killer Kaitlynn
Kaitlynn Pelger is leading the Big 12 Conference in kills as she is averaging 4.73 kills per set through 14 matches this season. The sophomore middle blocker has already posted six matches with 20 or more kills, including 32 against Drake last week. It was the first time since Valli Hejjas in 2004 a Wildcat has posted 30 or more kills. Pelger has been killing balls efficiently as well this season as she leads the team in hitting percentage coming in at .364 and ranks fifth in the league. Pelger also has five double-doubles to her name this season, including one with 26 kills and 14 blocks against Missouri State.

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. Second place in terms of kill average is Kansas’ Allison Mayfield, who is averaging 4.34. Missouri’s Lisa Henning has 205 total kills, which is 41 behind Pelger, and she has reached that total after playing five more sets than the Wildcats have.

Pelger is the only player in the conference to be ranked in the top 10 in five of the seven statistical categories. She also ranks among the conference leaders in hitting percentage (.364, 5th), aces (0.40, 3rd), blocks (1.17, 8th) and points (5.84, 1st). She is more than a full point per set above second place in that category.

“Por”ing it On
Sophomore outside hitter Lilla Porubek has continued where she left off her freshman campaign as she is averaging 3.12 kills per set and ranks eighth in the Big 12. She has posted 10 or more kills in every match but two thus far, including a career-high 16 against South Dakota State. 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 also is one of the team’s top servers averaging 0.26 aces per set. She tallied three in the win at Saint Mary’s.

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 11.29 after improving her numbers steadily through the first four weeks of the season. Donahue earned her second all-tournament team honor of the season last week at the Saint Mary’s Tournament where she helped guide the Wildcats to three quality wins. She posted two double-doubles to bring her season total to five, and she also provided an offensive spark with five kills against Utah Valley.

Against Drake last week, 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. 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.

Packed with Purple
Ahearn Field House is again rocking in 2011 with an average attendance of nearly 1,500 fans. K-State fans have always been loyal to their Wildcats when it comes to volleyball with the fans ranking in the Top 30 in national attendance regularly. This season K-State is again among the most highly attended volleyball matches in the nation. Last year, K-State was 18th in the nation in attendance for the entire season and third in the Big 12 Conference behind only Nebraska (2), Texas (7) and Missouri (15). Iowa State (19), Texas A&M (23) and Kansas (42) all ranked among the top 50 and averaged more than 900 in attendance.

The Wildcats had nearly 3,000 fans at their home opener against Creighton this season and are looking for more excitement all season in Ahearn to again make it one of the best environments in the conference to play volleyball in.

Kuulei Can Play
Junior college transfer Kuulei Kabalis has earned the starting libero spot for the Wildcats and averaged 3.37 digs per set so far this season. The native Hawaiian tallied 20 digs in the win over Creighton for her first 20-dig match as a Wildcat. Kabalis showed she can produce in a win over South Dakota State as she tallied 16 digs in the 3-0 win. Kabalis has tallied 15 or more digs four times this season. She also has proven to be one of the team’s top servers to keep teams off balance. Kabalis is second on the team in aces and had three in the win over Hofstra. Kabalis also is the first player in the program’s history from Hawai’i.

Welcome to the Block
Redshirt freshman Taylor Johnson made her career debut during the Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic in the Wildcats’ final match of the weekend helping the team to a victory over Tennessee Tech. Johnson played a key role in shutting down the Golden Eagles tallying an impressive eight block assists in her first action as a Wildcat. Johnson also had four kills on nine swings for a .333 hitting percentage. Johnson also had two digs and an assist in the win.

Since, Johnson has made brief appearances while spelling Alex Muff and made an immediate impact each time. In her next extended action against Missouri State, Johnson again showed what she can do. The Nebraska native pounded out seven kills on 14 swings with two errors for a percentage of .357. She also was in on seven of K-State’s 22 blocks that match. Then, against Hofstra Johnson posted two kills and six blocks in her two sets played. At the Saint Mary’s Tournament, Johnson hit .533 in seven sets of play and posted five blocks against Sacramento State and three against Saint Mary’s. Johnson had an impressive three solo stuffs against Sacramento State to keep the Hornets at bay.

Wildcat Wall
Kansas State has traditionally been one of the better blocking teams in the Big 12 Conference. After falling from the top four in the league in 2008 and 2009, K-State was back near the top averaging 2.42 blocks a set to rank third the Big 12 and 40th in the nation last season. This year, the Wildcats have picked up the pace with a number of impressive showings at the net defensively.

The Wildcats have already posted eight matches with 10 or more blocks just 14 matches into the season. Each of the last four matches K-State has reached that mark. K-State ranks fourth in the conference at 2.63 blocks per set as a number of teams are performing well in the category early this season. The Wildcats currently rank 23rd in the NCAA in blocks as well.

Some of the team’s performances this year on the block rank among the best in school history. In their win over Missouri State, the Wildcats had an astounding 22 total blocks. That number ties for third in K-State history for total blocks in a five-set match. In that match, middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger tallied six solo stuffs. That number ties for second for solo blocks in a five-set match. Pelger is averaging 1.17 blocks per set this season to rank seventh in the conference. Redshirt freshman Taylor Johnson is averaging 1.48 per set in her limited action while junior middle blocker Alex Muff is at 0.94.