Wildcats Begin Road Trip

MANHATTAN, Kan. The Wildcats hit the road to take on the Iowa State Cyclones and begin their final stretch of playing four of five matches on the road on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. The match pits two teams that are close statistically speaking and both eyeing postseason play.

Iowa State has been to the NCAA Tournament the past two years -- the first time the Cyclones have gone in back-to-back seasons -- and is currently in fifth place in the Big 12 at 4-5 in league play. The Wildcats are in third and are two games ahead of third place Baylor.

The last time these two teams met it was a hard-fought win for the Wildcats in four sets. K-State battled the Cyclones for close wins in each set even going to extra points in the fourth before winning the match 30-24, 30-26, 20-30, 35-33. Four Wildcats reached double digits in kills and all four of those players are back this year. Four Cyclones also reached double digits in the match. K-State swept the Cyclones in the other meeting between the Wildcats and Cyclones in Ames.

The Series

Kansas State and Iowa State are tied in the all-time series with each team winning 36 matches. The Wildcats won both matches last year to even the series after dropping both in 2006. The sweep of the series by the Cyclones in 2006 ended a 20-match winning streak by K-State over Iowa State in the series. The Wildcats had won every match in the Big 12 era up to that point.

Prior the inception of the Big 12 Conference, the Cyclones controlled the series holding a 34-14 advantage from 1976-1995. During that span the Cyclones had one streak of 14 consecutive wins over the Wildcats.

Traditionally the longer the matches last in this series the more likely Iowa State is to come up the victor as 24 of K-State’s wins have been sweeps while 14 of Iowa State’s wins over the Wildcats have been sweeps. K-State has a losing record against ISU in four- and five-set matches.

The Coaches

Kansas State: Suzie Fritz (Florida Atlantic 94) is in her eighth season leading the Wildcats. She holds the highest winning percentage in school history and is five wins shy of taking the top spot at K-State.

: Christy Johnson (Nebraska 96) is in her fourth year at the helm of the Cyclone program. She led the team to the Sweet 16 last season and a No. 17 final ranking. She has taken the team to its first back-to-back NCAA Tournaments.

On the Airwaves

Saturday’s match will be broadcast on 1350 KMAN with Rob Voelker calling the action. Fans can also hear the match on the station’s Web site www.1350kman.com.

On the Web

Live stats for Saturday’s match will be available through www.cyclones.com.

Scouting the Cyclones

Iowa State has its sites set on returning the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year under head coach Christy Johnson. At 4-5 in Big 12 Conference play, the Cyclones face a tough task but have an impressive resume on the year. The Cyclones opened the year ranked No. 17 in the AVCA Coaches Preseason Poll after reaching the Regional Semifinals last year and have knocked off some strong opponents.

After opening the year 2-1 at a tournament hosted by Milwaukee, the Cyclones dropped out of the rankings as the leading vote getter. Iowa State then lost to No. 15 Middle Tennessee and bested Florida International who was receiving votes and finished nonconference play 8-3. Iowa State dropped out of the rankings completely in the September 29 poll.

In conference play, the Cyclones started slowly losing four in a row to open 1-4. Two of the losses came to conference powers Texas and Nebraska with the other two coming in five sets to Kansas and Missouri. The Cyclones have won three of their last four -- including a win over vote getter Baylor -- to put themselves in a three-way tie for fifth.

The Cyclones are led by senior Jen Malcom as she is hitting at a .408 clip and averaging 1.26 blocks per set. Victoria Henson joins her as one of the offensive leaders on the team averaging 4.10 kills per set to rank third in the conference. Henson had 30 kills in a loss to Colorado on Saturday. She was extremely efficient for the match while taking a number of swings and hit .321 in the loss. She was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week for her efforts in the loss and a win over Texas Tech. Against the Red Raiders, Henson had 16 kills in a sweep and hit for a .652 clip.

In the loss against Colorado, Ashley Mass tallied 32 digs as she is leading the conference in digs per set at 5.05 to lead one of the top defenses in the Big 12. The Cyclones are holding their opponents to a .181 hitting percentage good enough for fourth in the conference right behind K-State’s defense. Mass has been named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week twice this season.

Setter Kaylee Manns also leads the conference in assists per set at 11.74. She had 72 of the team’s 77 assists in the loss at Colorado and is also averaging 2.55 dps to rank second on the team.

The Cyclones have a strong foundation in senior Jen Malcom and juniors Kaylee Manns and Diane Kieger, but get a lot of effort from a relatively young team with Henson and Mass contributing much as sophomores. Freshman Rachel Hockaday has played in every set this year and is third on the team in kills.

Catching Up with the Cats

Kansas State enters this week’s action off a dominating sweep over the Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Wildcats out-hit the Raiders .397-.066 en route to the sweep 25-18, 25-12, 25-17.

Texas Tech mustered just 23 kills in the loss as the Wildcats had 23 digs and marked nine blocks. Sophomore libero Lauren Mathewson had seven digs, and setter Soriana Pacheco led the team with eight. Seniors Megan Farr and Nataly Korobkova each had four blocks on the night as well.

Senior outside hitter Rita Liliom had a complete match at Tech with 11 kills on 20 swings with no errors to hit .550 for the match. She had been struggling to hit for a high percentage of late not reaching .230 for eight consecutive matches before the Tech match. Liliom also tied her career-high with four service aces in the victory.

Korobkova continued to be one of the team’s most consistent threats with nine kills and hit .312 with a solo block and three block assists. She has quietly put up solid numbers in conference play as Liliom is having one of the best seasons in school history from a kills per set standpoint.

Pacheco had her most efficient night yet this season mixing offense with defense. She led the team to its second-highest hitting percentage of the season in the win over the Red Raiders and tallied 25 assists. Her eight digs led the team and she also assisted on three blocks. Pacheco also had a career-high in kills with four on five attempts.

Liliom Marks 1,000th Kill

Senior outside hitter Rita Liliom put her name in the record books against Texas Tech as she marked her 1,000th career kill. Liliom joins a prestigious list of names in the 1,000 Kill Club and is ranked 15th all-time at K-State with 1,002. She ranks second in the Big 12 in kills per set at 4.11 and is among the national leaders as well. She has had at least 10 or more kills in every match this season for the Wildcats.

She has surpassed the 15-kill mark in nine matches and also added seven double-doubles reaching double digits in digs. Liliom has become the team’s go-to player in clutch situations this season and has been an emotional leader on the court. She could move into 11th on the career list if she continues at her current pace.