Wildcats Ready to Battle Bears on Road

Kuulei Kabalis

Sept. 28, 2012

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State volleyball hits the road again this weekend when the Wildcats take on the Baylor Bears at 7 p.m. Saturday from the Ferrell Center. The Wildcats are looking to get their first road victory in Big 12 Conference play while Baylor is still looking for its first win in league action after opening against ranked Iowa State and Texas before facing No. 15 K-State.

Saturday’s match will be a quick turnaround for the Wildcats after hosting West Virginia on Thursday night. The Wildcats were able to sweep the Mountaineers in their first road Big 12 match as new members of the league. K-State jumped on West Virginia early with a 25-8 win in the first set and held the momentum throughout the match for the victory.

Baylor is 4-1 at home this season with the lone loss coming to No. 9 Texas on Tuesday night. Tuesday was Baylor’s first home match since September 4 as the Bears traveled to tournaments at McNeese State and Tulane to close the nonconference portion of their schedule.

Matches at Baylor have been exciting affairs for the Wildcats the last few years. Last season, K-State fell in five sets after winning the first two. Baylor got the win 15-13 in a tightly contested fifth frame. The last win for K-State on the road in the series came in 2008 when the Wildcats won 24-26, 20-25, 25-13, 25-17, 21-19 that saw 12 ties and nine lead changes in the fifth set alone. The entire match saw only 11 lead changes.

On the Airwaves
Saturday’s match can be heard on KMAN 1350 with Rob Voelker calling the action. Live audio feeds can also be heard on 1350kman.com and kstatesports.com. Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.

Baylor Athletics has agreed to share its online video feed with K-StateHD.TV allowing for fans subscribing to K-State’s online network to view the match without signing up for Baylor All-Access. Live stats will also be available at baylorbears.com and kstatesports.com provided by CBS GameTracker.

The Series
K-State leads the all-time series with Baylor 22-11 with the two teams meeting only once prior to the Big 12 era. The Wildcats are 9-7 on the road against Baylor, with Fritz 6-5 after dropping the last three at the Ferrell Center to the Bears.

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

Baylor: Jim Barnes (McNeese State ‘94) is in his ninth year leading the Bears where he has taken his team to the NCAA Tournament two of the last three years. Barnes is 148-125 at Baylor and 311-223 for his career with stints at Wyoming and Lamar prior to taking over the Bears.

Scouting the Bears
Baylor carries a 13-4 record into Saturday’s match, but the Bears are 0-2 in Big 12 Conference play after opening league action against No. 19 Iowa State and No. 9 Texas. With the match against K-State, Baylor will open Big 12 play against the three ranked teams from the conference in a row, the most difficult opening stretch for any team in the league this year.

The Bears played a strong nonconference schedule traveling to Hawai’i to take on the Rainbow Wahine, Cal and San Francisco. Baylor dropped its match against hosting Hawai’i but managed to drop San Francisco in four sets and opened the tournament with a win over then-No. 25 Cal.

Baylor is in a bit of a losing streak, heading into the weekend. In addition to the two losses to open conference play, the Bears fell on the road to North Texas last week in straight sets.

Senior Alyssa Dibbern leads the offensive attack for Baylor so far this season with an average of 3.00 kills per set. She also is hitting .279 to rank second among the main attackers. Freshman Laura Jones is second on the team in kills with 2.52 per set. Baylor’s defense is led by Mackenzie Mayo with 3.08 digs per set. Three other players are averaging at least 2.00 digs as well to help the team post 13.75 overall. In conference play, Baylor is tallying 15.29 digs per set to rank fifth in the league.

With the tough opening two matches against ranked opponents, Baylor’s offense has not been able to put up big numbers thus far. The Bears are hitting just .118 in conference matches while opponents are hitting .300. The offense is fairly spread with three players averaging 2.29 kills or higher. The Bears have also been unable to apply pressure to their opponents serving with only two aces and 10 errors through two matches in Big 12 play.

In their last match against No. 9 Texas on Tuesday, the Bears fell in three sets on national television with the match aired on ESPNU. Baylor hit just .050 as the Longhorns tallied 10 blocks to limit the Bears on offense. Texas had two players reach double digits in kills with a third posting nine, and no Baylor players reached double digits.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
After dropping their Big 12 opener this season, which also was their first loss of the season, the Wildcats answered with a commanding sweep of the West Virginia Mountaineers in their first Big 12 home match of the year. K-State hit .368 for the match and limited West Virginia to .062 hitting. The Wildcats spread their offense around thanks to the distribution from senior setter Caitlyn Donahue with nine different players registering kills in the victory.

The Wildcats did something they have never accomplished in that sweep over West Virginia on Thursday night. K-State held the Mountaineers to just eight points in the first set. It is the first time in the rally scoring era K-State has kept a conference foe from scoring double digits in a non-fifth set. It also is the first time the Wildcats have held any opponent under 10 points in rally scoring since Cornell in 2008.

In the 25-8 win to open the match, the Wildcats went on a 12-0 run while Donahue went on a long serving run, which included a pair of back-to-back aces. After West Virginia was able to stop the run, the Mountaineers found themselves down 22-6. West Virginia hit -.133 in the set as the Wildcats stuffed three blocks and the Mountaineers had four more unforced attack errors in addition to a pair of service errors.

Juniors Kaitlynn Pelger continues to lead the Wildcat offense as she had 13 kills and a .600 hitting percentage in the win. She added nine digs to come up just shy of another double-double. Donahue distributed the offense around and posted her 30th career double-double as she led the team in digs with 11 to go with her 38 assists.

After getting back on the winning track in conference play, the Wildcats are looking to end a losing streak on the road to the Bears. K-State has not won at the Ferrell Center since a dramatic 3-2 victory in 2008 that saw the fifth set extend to a final score of 21-19.

K-State’s offense and defense have both proven to be among the nation’s best this season as well. In addition to the Wildcats hitting .267 as a team to rank 23rd in the latest NCAA statistical rankings of the season released Monday night, the team is 18th in blocking. Through last week’s matches, the Wildcats are stuffing 2.86 attacks from their opponents this season and have posted 10 or more blocks in five matches. The Wildcats are also posting 13.30 assists per set to rank 26th.

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 eighth in the nation in blocks per set, averaging 1.51.

Senior setter Caitlyn Donahue is again one of the leading setters in the Big 12 Conference and the nation. She currently stands 14th on the NCAA list averaging 11.67 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 41st in the nation in aces and 42nd in points per set, as she is one of the team’s top contributors in kills, aces and blocks.

K-State Ranked No. 15
The Wildcats drop four spots in this week’s AVCA Coaches Top 25 Poll after losing their first match of the season at Oklahoma last week. After the best start in school history at 12-0, K-State climbed to No. 11 a week ago but still remain among the top teams in the country. The No. 11 ranking was the highest the Wildcats had been ranked since being No. 11 on Nov. 26, 2007.

Three Big 12 teams continue to be ranked as Texas holds steady this week at No. 9 after defeating Oklahoma. Iowa State also held its spot at No. 19. Oklahoma is the leading vote getter outside the Top 25, and Kansas joins the list of other teams receiving votes this week with a 13-2 record.

A number of K-State’s nonconference foes are among the top teams as well. Minnesota and Dayton are still ranked with the Golden Gophers climbing two spots to No. 10 and Dayton leaping two spots as well up to No. 20. Two more of K-State’s nonconference opponents are receiving votes. Oregon State is just outside the Top 25 behind OU with 43 points in the poll. Creighton also is receiving votes with 14 points.

Elite Company
K-State’s football team is a perfect 3-0 and ranked No. 7 heading following Saturday’s victory on the road over No. 6 Oklahoma. With K-State’s No. 15-ranked volleyball team at 13-1, the Wildcats join only 11 other schools that can boast the same accomplishment so far with their football and volleyball teams ranked.

The Wildcats are 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.

Cleaning Up
K-State is off to a great start to the season at 14-1, but the way the Wildcats have been winning is just as impressive. A total of 12 of those victories have been 3-0 sweeps of their opponents. That total already surpasses last year’s eight sweeps and is the most by any team in the nation so far. BYU, Central Arkansas and St. John’s each have 11 sweeps, and K-State has more sweeps than undefeated No. 5 Washington (9) and No. 2 Oregon (9) as well as No. 3 USC (9). No. 24 Michigan State , No. 23 Western Kentucky and Towson each have 10 sweeps to their credit.

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.

Pelger Honored by AVCA
After helping the K-State volleyball team win the Golden Hurricane Classic and defeat to ranked teams two weeks ago at Tulsa, junior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger was 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 is 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.

Pelger Named Big 12 Player of the Week
K-State won what was tabbed by many as the top tournament in the nation that week on the schedule claiming three wins at the Golden Hurricane Classic in Tulsa, and junior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger walked away with tournament MVP honors and was also 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 and followed that win with a victory over No. 20 Dayton at arguably the top nonconference tournament in the nation that 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. 18 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.

Thursday night 1,912 fans came to Ahearn Field House to welcome West Virginia to the Big 12 Conference. The Wildcats swept the Mountaineers and the large crowd brought the season average attendance to more than 1,600 fans. This past weekend, nearly 1,600 fans came to see the Wildcats sweep Nebraska-Omaha, and nearly 2,000 fans took advantage of the Wildcat Weekend ticket special to see a victory over Utah State after watching the football team defeat Miami earlier in the day on Sept. 8.

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.