Wildcats Tangle with No. 9 Texas at Home

Courtney Traxson

Oct. 5, 2012

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MANHATTAN, Kan. - Kansas State volleyball is set to take on its second ranked opponent of the week on Saturday when the Wildcats host No. 9 Texas at 7 p.m. The Wildcats are looking to hand the Longhorns their first Big 12 loss of the season and continue riding the momentum from a win over No. 22 Iowa State on Wednesday night.

The match will pit some of the top talent in the conference against each other with K-State middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger ranking in the top 10 in four statistical categories in the conference. Texas boasts the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year in Bailey Webster, and another player making a push for the title in Haley Eckerman.

K-State enters the match ranked No. 14 in this week's AVCA Poll and eyeing its fourth win over a ranked opponent only midway through the season. The Wildcats bested No. 10 Minnesota and No. 20 Dayton during nonconference play in September, and Texas is 3-3 against ranked opponents this year after playing another challenging nonconference schedule.

Key to the match for both sides will be slowing down the other's offense. K-State and Texas are both among the most efficient attacking teams in the nation. The Longhorns are hitting .288 as a team and averaging 13.55 kills compared to K-State's .278 hitting and 14.30 kills.

Saturday's match will be part of an exciting Wildcat Weekend. Discounted tickets are available to fans who show their ticket to the Dillons Sunflower Showdown football game can get in for just $3. It also will be Shawnee Community Night and fans from senior Kathleen Ludwig's hometown can purchase tickets online for $3 with a special promo code. For information on promo codes contact the Fan Experience and Sales Office at 785-532-6650.

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.

The match will be broadcast on K-State's online network K-StateHD.TV for fans subscribing to the service.  Live stats will also be available at kstatesports.com provided by CBS GameTracker.

The Series
Texas leads the all-time series with K-State 27-7 with the two teams playing only twice prior to the Big 12 era. The Longhorns have controlled the series of late with K-State's last victory coming in 2003.

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

Texas: Jerritt Elliot (Cal State Northridge `91) has turned the Longhorns into a national title contender in his 11 years leading the program. Now in his 12th year at Texas, Elliot has taken his team to the Final Four three of the last four years.

Scouting the Longhorns
Texas was the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 Conference again this year and the Longhorns are currently undefeated in league play. The Longhorns are yet to lose a set in conference play with sweeps over West Virginia, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas Tech and TCU.

Bailey Webster was the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year and she is currently posting 4.13 kills per set in conference play on a strong .465 hitting percentage. She is joined by Haley Eckerman as the two main threats for Texas. Eckerman is making an argument for Big 12 Player of the Year as well with the sophomore averaging 4.40 kills and hitting .293 in league action. Eckerman also is adding 1.87 digs. The tandem combines to take nearly 60 percent of UT's swings on offense.

The Longhorns have one of the top offenses in the country hitting .288 overall and .312 in conference play. Eleven of their 12 wins have been 3-0 sweeps and all three of their losses have been to ranked opponents.

Defensively, Texas is a force up front with the Longhorns leading the nation in blocks. Through last week's matches, the Longhorns were averaging 3.35 blocks to lead Utah (3.17) in the category. So far in league play Texas is stuffing 3.27 attacks per set from the opponent. More impressive, those numbers are so high even after only posting three blocks for the entire match against TCU on Wednesday. On the road at Texas Tech last weekend, the Longhorns had 14 blocks.

Kat Bell (1.26) and Molly McCage (1.28) represent the main blocking presence for Texas. McCage was the Preseason Big 12 Freshman of the Year.

Catching Up with the `Cats
The Wildcats are riding a bit of momentum into Saturday's match after defeating No. 22 Iowa State for the first time since 2007 on Wednesday night. K-State swept the Cyclones in a dominant performance hitting .417. It was the highest hitting percentage allowed by Iowa State this season and was the 11th time this season K-State has held its opponent under .200 for the match.

The win was K-State's third over a ranked opponent so far this year with previous wins over then-ranked No. 10 Minnesota and No. 20 Dayton to win the Golden Hurricane Classic. It is the first time K-State has had three wins over ranked opponents since 2003 when the Wildcats posted four.

In the victory over Iowa State, senior setter Caitlyn Donahue spread the offense around for the Wildcats with four players posting six or more kills and hitting higher than .375. She also was strong defensively, leading the team with 10 digs to post her sixth double-double of the season.

Thanks to Donahue's setting, the Wildcats had very few errors in the win. Iowa State had four blocks for the match. Taking those four hitting errors out of K-State's stats to account for the blocks, the Wildcats hit only two balls out of bounds for unforced errors.

Junior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger led the team in kills with 16 as she also hit .556. Pelger just missed out on a double-double with nine digs. Junior outside hitter Lilla Porubek was also in double digits with 10 kills as she hit .391 and had three block assists. Courtney Traxson kept her hot hand as she pounded out six kills on 14 swings after coming off the bench at Baylor to play a key role with 10 kills in only two sets played.

Senior middle blocker Alex Muff put together a complete performance against Iowa State as she found her offensive rhythm with eight kills on 14 swings and only one error. She also shut down the Cyclones at the net with seven block assists.

K-State's back row defense was solid with Tristan McCarty posting nine digs and libero Kuulei Kabalis with seven. The two also applied pressure with their serve as McCarty has one ace and Kabalis tallied two.

The Wildcats continue to boast an offense and defense that have both proven to be among the nation's best this season. In addition to the Wildcats hitting .271 as a team through last week's matches to rank 21st in the latest NCAA statistical rankings of the season released Monday, the team is 27th in kills at 14.25 per set and 36th in blocking. Through last week's matches, the Wildcats are stuffing 2.67 attacks from their opponents this season and have posted 10 or more blocks in five matches. The Wildcats are also posting 13.53 assists per set to rank 17th.

Individually, the Wildcats have some of the top talent in the nation in addition to Pelger. Senior middle blocker Alex Muff has proven to be one of the best at her position defensively as she is currently 19th in the nation in blocks per set, averaging 1.42.

Senior setter Caitlyn Donahue is again one of the leading setters in the Big 12 Conference and the nation. She currently stands 10th on the NCAA list averaging 11.92 assists per set. Her guidance as the setter has helped the Wildcats' offense rank high in kills and hitting percentage.

Pelger Earns Second Big 12 Player of the Week
K-State middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger continues to prove she is one of the best players in the Big 12 Conference as she helped lead the Wildcats to a pair of wins last week and was named Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this season.

Pelger opened the week with 13 kills on 20 swings and only one error to hit .600 against new Big 12 member West Virginia. She also added nine digs to just miss out on her fifth double-double of the season as the Wildcats swept the Mountaineers 25-8, 25-19, 25-17. She did get that elusive double-double in Saturday's match as the Wildcats posted their first road win at Baylor since 2008. K-State won the match 3-1 and Pelger took control blasting out 23 kills for a new season-high, surpassing her previous best of 22 in a five set match. The junior added 12 digs from the back row as she remains one of the few middle blockers in the country to play all six rotations, and she hit .321 for the match.

On the week Pelger averaged an impressive 5.14 kills per set while hitting .397. She also contributed 3.00 digs per set. She is one of only two players in the Big 12 to rank in the top 10 in four different statistical categories in overall matches. In conference play she is leading kills per set by nearly half a kill.

K-State Ranked No. 14
The Wildcats moved up one spot in this week's AVCA Coaches Top 25 Poll after posting wins over West Virginia and Baylor in Big 12 Conference action. BYU fell to K-State nonconference opponent St. Mary's, allowing a number of teams to bump up one spot. After the best start in school history at 12-0, K-State climbed to No. 11 two 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.

Four Big 12 teams are now ranked with Kansas crashing the Top 25 at No. 24 this week after defeating then-No. 19 Iowa State in Lawrence. Texas holds steady again this week at No. 9, and Iowa State dropped three spots to No. 22. Oklahoma is the leading vote getter outside the Top 25 for the second straight week.

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 holding onto No. 10 and Dayton climbing two spots for the second straight week up to No. 18. Two more of K-State's nonconference opponents are receiving votes. Oregon State is just outside the Top 25 behind OU with 63 points in the poll. After defeating two ranked opponents last week, St. Mary's is now listed among the teams receiving votes as well. Creighton is no longer listed after losing to Southern Illinois.

Winning Formula
The NCAA released its first RPI rankings this week, and the computers love the K-State Wildcats. With a 15-1 record entering this week the Wildcats come in at No. 7 in the initial RPI report. Similar to basketball, the NCAA selection committee uses RPI as a major factor in determining at-large bids and seeding for the NCAA Tournament. The selection committee only seeds the top 16 teams for the postseason, with regional sites hosted at Purdue, Texas, Cal and in Omaha. The first two rounds of the tournament are played at campus sites to be determined.

Nine of K-State's opponents are in the Top 50 of the RPI, including four in the top 15 in Texas (15), Oklahoma (14), Minnesota (12) and Kansas (9).

Elite Company
K-State's football team is a perfect 4-0 and ranked No. 7 heading following a victory on the road over No. 6 Oklahoma. With K-State's No. 14-ranked volleyball team at 15-1, 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 five schools. Oregon is the only school with both team in the Top 10 as each is ranked No. 2.

Cleaning Up
Midway through the season K-State stands at 16-1, but the way the Wildcats have been winning is just as impressive. A total of 13 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. Two other teams have 12 sweeps, and seven teams have 11 sweeps, including some of the best teams in the country like No. 1 Penn State, No. 2 Oregon, No. 9 Texas and No. 16 BYU.

The 3-0 sweeps have come against strong competition as well, including most recently No. 22 Iowa State on Wednesday. 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. St. Mary's defeated two ranked opponents last week in then-No. 18 Pepperdine and No. 11 BYU.

Singled Out
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.

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, averaging more than 1,600 per match.

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 opening weekend more than 1,500 faithful came out to watch a come-from-behind victory over Oregon State to average 1,755 for the three matches at the Varney's Invitational.

The Wildcat faithful again posted an attendance of more than 2,000 this weekend when K-State swept No. 22 Iowa State. In the conference home opener 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 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.