Wildcats Look for 10 Straight Wins

Kathleen Ludwig

Sept. 30, 2011

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MANATTAN, Kan. - The Kansas State volleyball team currently has the fifth-longest winning streak in school history going and the Wildcats are looking to keep it alive this weekend when they travel to take on the Texas A&M Aggies. First serve is set for 6:30 p.m. from Reed Arena where the Wildcats are 1-1 against the Aggies after they moved to the basketball arena three years ago. The Aggies are coming off a five-set win over Baylor at home on Wednesday and K-State is fresh off a five-set win of its own, coming on the road at Missouri.

A win by the Wildcats would mark just the second time K-State has opened Big 12 Conference action 3-0. The only other time the Wildcats have won their first three matches of Big 12 play was in 1999 when K-State opened league action 8-0.

A win also would mean the first loss for the Aggies on their home floor this season. Texas A&M is a perfect 5-0 in Reed Arena this year with victories over UT-San Antonio, Houston Baptist, Baylor and two over Creighton. The Aggies had to battle from behind on Wednesday to get the win over Baylor as the Bears won the second and third sets to put A&M in a corner. The Aggies responded with dominant wins in the fourth and fifth sets to get the victory and defend their home court.

The Aggies are receiving votes in the current AVCA Top 25 Coaches Poll as they currently hold a 12-3 record after opening the season with nine straight wins. Since then, A&M has not been able to put back-to-back wins together sustaining losses to Xavier in five sets, falling at No. 18 Michigan in three and falling to Missouri last Saturday on the road.

On the Airwaves
Saturday’s match will be aired live online by KMAN 1350 with Rob Voelker calling the action as the match broadcast will be picked up live on the air following the conclusion of the K-State football game. The match also can be heard live online for free at kstatesports.com.

Saturday’s match will have free audio of KMAN’s broadcast available at kstatesports.com. There also will be a webcast at aggieathletics.com/liveEvents. There is a monthly fee for the service. Live stats provided by NeuLion and may also be found on aggieathletics.com and kstatesports.com.

The Series
Kansas State leads the all-time series against Texas A&M 18-13. The Wildcats are just 5-10 on the road at A&M all-time, but they have managed to get three of those wins in the last four years. Head Coach Suzie Fritz is 5-5 on the road at A&M through her first 10 seasons at the helm.

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. She is the winningest coach in K-State history and her career record of 208-119 gives her a winning percentage of .636.

Texas A&M: Laurie Corbelli (San Francisco ‘88) is in her 19th year leading the Aggies and 26th overall as a head coach. She has taken the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament 14 times in her tenure. After a three-year hiatus, Corbelli returned the Aggies to the postseason in 2009 reaching the Reginal Semifinals.

Scouting the Aggies
To get a win on the road over Texas A&M, the Wildcats will have to slow down outside hitter Kelsey Black. The senior leads the team with 3.60 kills per set and ranks sixth in the conference. She also is one of the league’s top servers ranking fifth in aces as well. Black was a member of the 2009 USA National Junior Team and was unanimous Preseason All-Big 12 selection by the league’s coaches.

Black was joined by setter Allie Sawatzky on the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. The sophomore ranks fifth in the conference in assists per set averaging 10.28. Her direction of the offense has led the Aggies to be the most efficient team in the conference, however, as A&M is leading the Big 12 with a team hitting percentage of .271. The Aggies also lead the league in kills per set at 14.20 overall. They rank third in league matches at 14.33 trailing Iowa State (15.89) and K-State (15.62).

The defense is led by libero Megan Pendergast. Big 12 volleyball fans will be familiar with her name as she transferred to A&M this season after playing two years at Nebraska in a backup role. She currently leads the team with 4.07 digs per set and ranks fourth in the league. With her help the Aggies rank third in the conference in digs and were able to out-dig Baylor by 21 on Wednesday night - a team ranked second in the category.

A&M is not a strong blocking team as the Aggies post 1.85 blocks a set to rank last in the league. Only one player is averaging 1.00 blocks per set individually, and she has only played sparingly.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
K-State is currently 13-3 on the year and riding a nine-match winning streak. The streak marks the longest winning streak for the Wildcats since winning 12 in a row in 2003. The Wildcats went on separate winning streaks of 12 and 16 matches in 2003 when K-State went 30-5 and won the Big 12 title. K-State has two other winning streaks of 13 matches set in 1997 and 2002 that best the current streak of nine.

The Wildcats have already surpassed their win total from last season and are looking to add on with the trio Kaitlynn Pelger, Lilla Porubek and Kathleen Ludwig leading the attack. Pelger leads the Big 12 in kills and ranks fifth in the nation in the category as well. Porubek also is in the top 10 in the Big 12 for kills and is coming off the first 20-kill match of her career against Missouri. Ludwig has found a rhythm of late with a season-high 15 kills at Missouri as well.

K-State ranks third or higher in every statistical category through the first few conference matches thanks to the hot hitting and strong defensive play. The Wildcats are third in hitting percentage in conference matches at .249 trailing Iowa State and Texas. In every other stat, K-State is alone or tied for second.

In addition to leading the league in kills (4.77) and points (5.85), Pelger is the only player in the league to rank in the top 10 in five of seven categories. She also ranks in hitting percentage, aces and blocks.

K-State enters this weekend’s match at Texas A&M on a nine-match winning streak, the longest since the Wildcats won 12 straight in 2003. That streak was extended on Wednesday in an exciting five-set match at Missouri that saw the Wildcats battle back and forth with their rival Tigers in the first set. After K-State led 20-15, Missouri rallied back to tie it up at 23-23. From there it was a seesaw battle with neither team scoring consecutive points until Missouri closed the door 33-31. K-State answered winning the second and third sets after building large early leads. Missouri did the same in the fourth, and the Wildcats prevailed in the fifth set for the fourth time this season. K-State is undefeated in five-set matches midway through the schedule after going 2-3 in long matches last season.

The Wildcats also are back among the top blocking teams in the nation in 2011 standing with a team average of 2.62 per set and holding the No. 25 spot on the list. K-State has tallied eight matches with 10 or more blocks. The Wildcats also rank in the top 50 nationally in aces with an average of 1.56 per set at 42nd and kills at 13.69 to stand 46th.

Repeat Performance
For the second straight week Kansas State middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger has been recognized for her prowess on the court being named Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Week. Pelger received the honor last week after averaging 5.19 kills per set over four matches. This week she repeats with an amazing average of 5.67 kills in a sweep over the Baylor Bears in K-State’s only action of the week.

Pelger pounded out 17 kills in a win over Baylor to open Big 12 play for the Wildcats with a strong hitting percentage of .333. But it was not only her offensive play that aided in the win. Pelger also tied her career-high of 18 digs in the victory, a mark she had previously reached in five sets against Drake. The sophomore also had four blocks and a service ace in the win. The match marked her sixth double-double of the season as well.

The Wildcats have won eight straight matches with Pelger playing a major role in the team’s success midway through the season. She currently leads the Big 12 in kills per set and points per set and is the only player in the conference to rank among the top 10 in five of the seven statistical categories.

Killer Kaitlynn
Kaitlynn Pelger is leading the Big 12 Conference in kills as she is averaging 4.77 kills per set through 16 matches this season. The sophomore middle blocker has already posted seven matches with 20 or more kills, including 32 against Drake and most recently 23 at Missouri. Her 32 kills against Drake marked 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 .355 and ranks third in the league. Pelger also has seven double-doubles to her name this season as she is playing all six rotations from her middle blocker position and digging 2.60 balls a set to stand second on the team. One of her double-doubles came in the unconventional way with 14 blocks against Missouri State.

Pelger is one of the top players in the nation midway through the season as she ranks in the top 100 in five of seven categories. She ranks fifth in kills per set and second in points (5.89) through last week’s matches trailing only Northern Illinois’ Lauren Wicinksi. Pelger also ranks in aces (73rd, 0.40), blocks (57th, 1.18) and hitting percentage (47th, .362).

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 4.24. In terms of total kills, Missouri’s Lisa Henning has 263 total kills, which is 23 behind Pelger, and she has reached that total after playing nine 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.

Setting the Table
Junior setter Caitlyn Donahue has grown more comfortable in only her second year playing the role, and it is showing. Donahue currently leads the Big 12 in assists per set at 11.52 and has steadily been improving her numbers throughout the season. Donahue earned two all-tournament team honors during nonconference play and opened Big 12 action with her sixth double-double of the season against Baylor. She backed that up with a career-high 67 assists in the win at Missouri on Wednesday.

The Overland Park native is directing the offense to a hitting percentage of .244 to rank seventh in the conference overall but third in league play. The team’s kill average of 13.85 is third in the league, and the marks get better in conference play. K-State is averaging an impressive 15.62 kills per set in league play thanks to the direction of Donahue as she is averaging 13.00 assists in those matches as well.

Donahue is not only the top setter in the league so far this season, she is among the nation’s best. Her average of 11.35 following last week’s matches ranks 19th in the NCAA this season. Of the 18 setters with a higher assists per set average, 10 of them are on Top 25 ranked teams. The average team ranking of those 10 setters is 11.2, including No. 1 Illinois, No. 4 Cal and No. 5 USC.

Against Missouri, Donahue reached a new career-high with 67 assists in the victory. She also played a key role defensively in the win with seven digs and three blocks. Donahue got involved on offense as well in the win posting five kills on 10 swings to keep the Tigers honest at the net. 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.

Donahue ranks third on the team in digs per set on the year and has put together a total of six double-doubles as she and middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger both are approaching the top 10 list for most double-doubles in a single season in school history.

“Por”ing it On
Sophomore outside hitter Lilla Porubek has continued where she left off her freshman campaign as she is averaging 3.26 kills per set and ranks seventh in the Big 12. She has posted 10 or more kills in every match but two thus far, including a career-high 23 against Missouri on Wednesday. It was the first 20-kill match of her career. The native of Hungary has become a go-to player for the Wildcats and has lifted her hitting percentage and kills over the last few matches as well to be a more consistent threat for the team. Porubek also is one of the team’s top servers averaging 0.28 aces per set after posting two at Missouri on Wednesday. She also came up with a big solo block at Missouri to hold the momentum at a key point during the match.

Porubek had one of her most consistent performances of the season against Baylor last week as she tallied 13 kills and hit .278. She also earned two all-tournament team honors this season during nonconference play receiving the recognition at the Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Invitational at Missouri State and the Varney’s Invitational hosted by K-State.

Sensational Southpaw
Junior opposite Kathleen Ludwig has found her stroke over the last few matches for the Wildcats to provide more punch on the offense and give K-State another threat during the eight-match winning streak. Ludwig is averaging 2.37 kills per set and hitting .241 on the year. Her averages over the last three matches have jumped exponentially as she played a key role in opening Big 12 play 2-0.

In the Big 12 opener against Baylor, Ludwig joined two of her teammates in double-digit kills with 11 and a hitting percentage of .296. During that win, Ludwig also provided four digs and two blocks. She backed that up with a season-high 15 kills at Missouri on Wednesday on a .256 hitting percentage in the five-set match. She posted her second double-double of the year with 12 digs and also had six block assists. Her increased production has opened up hitting lanes for her teammates as Kaitlynn Pelger and Lilla Porubek have each seen increased kill production during this three-match stretch as well.

Kuulei Can Play
Junior college transfer Kuulei Kabalis has earned the starting libero spot for the Wildcats and averaged 3.52 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 and had a new career-high of 23 at Missouri on Wednesday. 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 five times this season. She also has proven to be one of the team’s top servers to keep teams off balance. Kabalis is third 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.

Packed with Purple
Ahearn Field House is again rocking in 2011 with an average attendance of more than 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 currently ranking 23rd with an average of 1,506. K-State is fourth in the conference in attendance trailing only Missouri (7th, 2859), Texas (14th, 2269) and Iowa State (18th, 1895). Texas A&M (26th, 1391) also is in the top 30 in attendance within the conference.

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.