Wildcats Host No. 10 Longhorns

Tristan McCarty

Oct. 13, 2011

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MANHATTAN, Kan. - The Kansas State volleyball team takes on one of the nation’s top teams on Saturday as the Wildcats play host to the No. 10 Texas Longhorns at 3 p.m. Saturday. The Wildcats will be looking to use the rest and extra preparation from their mid-week bye to get another quality win on their resume, and Texas comes into Ahearn Field House following a Wednesday night match against Texas Tech.

The Longhorns have had mixed results on the road in Big 12 Conference play after playing their first two conference road matches against ranked teams. Texas lost its first road match in league play to then-ranked No. 25 Oklahoma in five sets. The Longhorns responded with a 3-2 win at No. 16 Iowa State and have played their last two matches at home.

K-State will be challenged to find a way to slow the Longhorns offense down as they have the highest team hitting percentage in conference play. Texas boasts the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year in Rachael Adams and Freshman of the Year in Khat Bell. It has been freshman Haley Eckerman who has emerged as another major threat for the Longhorns as she ranks in the top 10 in the Big 12 in kills to lead the team.

The Wildcats are coming off an impressive defensive performance at Texas Tech last weekend when they posted 15 total blocks. The mark ranks sixth in school history for a three-set match and is the second-highest block total this season in all matches. The only match that saw K-State post more blocks was at Missouri State when the Wildcats stuffed 22 attacks by the Bears in a 3-2 win.

On the Airwaves
Saturday’s match will be aired live online by KMAN 1350 with Rob Voelker calling the action. The match also can be heard live online for free at kstatesports.com.

Saturday’s match will have be broadcast on K-StateHD.TV for fans subscribing to the online network using the audio from KMAN’s broadcast. The K-State Gameday preview show will begin 45 minutes prior to the start of the match hosted by Brian Smoller and Liz Wegner-Busch. Fans can subscribe to K-StateHD.TV for a monthly fee of $9.95 or an annual fee of $79.95. There will also be free audio of KMAN’s broadcast available at kstatesports.com. Live stats provided by CBS GameTracker may also be found on kstatesports.com.

The Series
Texas leads the all-time series against K-State 25-7 as the Wildcats have dropped 15 straight matches to the Longhorns. Texas last lost to K-State in Manhattan in 2003 when the Wildcats won the Big 12 Championship.

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 209-121 gives her a winning percentage of .633.

Texas: Jerritt Elliott (Cal State Northridge ‘91) is in his 13th year leading the Longhorns where he has turned the program into a top program. He has taken the Longhorns to the Final Four three straight years.

Scouting the Longhorns
Texas entered the year as the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 Conference and are currently ranked No. 10 in the latest AVCA Top 25 Coaches Poll. The Longhorns are coming off a 3-0 win at home over Texas Tech on Wednesday night that saw Texas hit .323 as a team in the victory while holding the Red Raiders to just .116.

The Longhorns are 4-1 in conference play and 11-4 overall after playing a challenging nonconference schedule against traditional powerhouses Minnesota, Florida and Penn State. Their lone conference loss came at the hands of rival Oklahoma on the road in five sets on national television.

Texas boasts the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year in Rachael Adams and the Preseason Big 12 Freshman of the Year in Khat Bell, but it is another freshman who is leading the team thus far. Haley Eckerman is leading the team in kills with 3.27 kills per set. Adams and Bell have each still been a force for the Longhorns despite the presence of Eckerman to give Texas multiple options on offense.

Adams is leading the team in hitting percentage with an impressive mark of .370 while pounding out 2.57 kills per set. She also is one of the top blockers in the conference with 1.34 per set. Bell is adding 2.61 kills a set for the Longhorns on a .194 clip while contributing 2.26 digs.

Against Texas Tech on Wednesday, the Longhorns got the sweep with ease winning 25-17, 25-11, 25-22. Bailey Webster led the team with 11 kills. Eckerman contributed nine kills and Adams had seven while hitting .800.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
K-State is currently 14-5 on the year after defeating Texas Tech on the road last Saturday. The Wildcats had one of their mid-week byes this week to have extra time to prepare for the Longhorns on Saturday.

The Wildcats are coming off one of their most impressive blocking performances on the year at Tech as the team tallied 15 blocks in the 3-0 win. That total of 15 blocks is the second-most the team has tallied in a match all season, including all matches. The Wildcats have played in four five-set matches, and only accumulated more blocks in one of those matches. The 15 blocks tie for the sixth most in school history for a three-set match and are second in the Big 12 this season.

The blocks came in a flurry against the Red Raiders, especially in the first set. Tech pulled ahead late in the opening stanza 22-21, but the Wildcats would not be denied. In fact, it was the Wildcats who would deny the Red Raiders. K-State proceeded to stuff block Tech’s next four attacks to come from behind and win the first set on four straight blocks.

Setter Ashley Kelican got her second career start against Tech and she again shined for the Wildcats posting a career-high 32 assists. She directed the team to a .280 hitting percentage while also added seven block assists and a pair of aces in the victory. Kelican also had a strong performance against No. 16 Iowa State in her first career-start with 31 assists. She also had a career-high eight digs to just miss out on a double-double against the Cyclones.

The Wildcats are leading the league in blocks during conference play with an impressive 2.85 per set. On the year, they are averaging 2.69 to rank second behind Texas Tech. It has not been only the block that has helped the Wildcats already surpass their win total from last season, however. The tandem of Kaitlynn Pelger and Lilla Porubek have made the Wildcats one of the top offenses in the league.

Pelger is second in the league in kills during conference play (4.12) and leads overall (4.58). Porubek has improved her kill production steadily of late to now stand seventh overall (3.30) and fifth in conference play (3.82). As a team, K-State is second in the league during conference play averaging 14.29 kills and 13.12 assists. The Wildcats are also tops in aces. With the No. 1 block in the conference, K-State is also limiting opponents to a hitting percentage of just .190 in league action to rank third.

Killer Kaitlynn
Kaitlynn Pelger is leading the Big 12 Conference in kills as she is averaging 4.58 kills per set through 19 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 .325 and ranks ninth 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 2.68 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 four of seven categories. She ranks 15th in kills per set and third in points (5.67) through last week’s matches trailing only Northern Illinois’ Lauren Wicinksi and Georgia Tech’s Monique Mead. Pelger also ranks in aces (85th, 0.38) and blocks (59th, 1.19).

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 4.21. In terms of total kills, Missouri’s Lisa Henning has 333 total kills, which is 17 more than Pelger, and she has reached that total after playing 14 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.

“Por”ing it On
Sophomore outside hitter Lilla Porubek has continued where she left off her freshman campaign as she is averaging 3.30 kills per set and ranks seventh in the Big 12. She has posted 10 or more kills in every match but three thus far, including a career-high 23 against Missouri. 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 0.24 aces per set.

Porubek has led the team in kills in two of the last three matches and put together one of her most consistent performances of the season at Texas A&M as she pounded out 12 kills. She also hit .476 for her new career-high in a match. The native of Budapest, Hungary, has increased her kill numbers each of the last three weeks to steadily rise up the rankings within the Big 12.

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 gave K-State another threat during its recent nine-match winning streak. She has continued that strong production into Big 12 play as Ludwig is averaging 2.35 kills per set and hitting .237 on the year.

Last week against Iowa State, Ludwig tallied 10 kills on a .364 hitting percentage in the loss. She also added six digs and a pair of aces. 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 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 Ludwig’s resurgence.

Packed with Purple
Ahearn Field House is again rocking in 2011 with an average attendance of more than 1,200 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 25th with an average of 1,478. K-State is fifth in the conference in attendance trailing only Missouri (7th, 2713), Texas (9th, 2504), Iowa State (10th, 2399) and Texas A&M (24th, 1512).

Last year, K-State was 18th in the nation in attendance for the entire season and fourth 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.

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 11.41 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 last week.

The Overland Park native is directing the offense to a hitting percentage of .241 to rank fifth in the conference. The team’s kill average of 13.78 is second in the league, and the marks get better in conference play. K-State is averaging an impressive 14.73 kills per set in league play to stand atop the list thanks to the direction of Donahue as she is averaging 12.00 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 11.41 following last week’s matches ranks 14th in the NCAA this season. Of the 13 setters with a higher assists per set average, six of them are on Top 25 ranked teams. The average team ranking of those six setters is 12.5, including No. 3 USC and No. 4 Cal.

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.

Kuulei Can Play
Junior college transfer Kuulei Kabalis has earned the starting libero spot for the Wildcats and is averaging 3.59 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. 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 six 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.

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 10 matches with 10 or more blocks just 19 matches into the season. In six of the last nine matches K-State has reached that mark. K-State ranks second in the conference overall at 2.69 blocks per set and also leads the category in conference play at 2.85 per set. The Wildcats currently rank 20th 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 1.19 blocks per set this season to rank fifth 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 1.08.