Wildcats Set to Tangle with Sooners

Alex Muff

Oct. 21, 2011

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – The Kansas State volleyball team will look to keep its strong play on the road in Big 12 Conference action going this weekend when the Wildcats travel to take on No. 22 Oklahoma on Saturday. The Wildcats and Sooners will take to the court at 2 p.m. from McCasland Fieldhouse where the Sooners are undefeated this season in a match heavy with conference implications.

Oklahoma has home wins over two ranked teams besting then-No. 15 Colorado State early in the season and defeating then-No. 8 Texas in five sets three weeks ago on national television. The Sooners are currently tied for third in the Big 12 standings with a 5-2 record after falling on the road to No. 16 Iowa State as well as at Texas A&M.

K-State currently is 3-1 on the road in conference play as this weekend wraps up the first half of league action. The Wildcats’ lone conference road loss came at Texas A&M.  The road has not been kind to K-State when the Wildcats travel to Oklahoma, however. Oklahoma has won four of the last five matches against K-State on the Sooners’ home floor.

The match will put some of the conference’s top players at their positions up against each other. Middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger leads the league in kills overall and will see another sophomore middle blocker on Oklahoma’s side of the net in Sallie McLaurin that is among the conference leaders at the position. McLaurin currently leads the Big 12 in blocks in conference play. Setter Caitlyn Donahue will see one of the nation’s best at the position in senior Brianne Barker. Donahue leads the Big 12 in assists per set and Barker is in the top four.

On The Airwaves
Saturday’s match will be aired live online by KMAN 1350 with Rob Voelker calling the action and available for free at kstatesports.com. Over the airwaves, the match will be tape delayed and aired following the K-State football game at Kansas.

Live stats provided by CBS GameTracker may also be found on kstatesports.com and soonersports.com. The audio broadcast will be available at kstatesports.com as well.

The Series
Oklahoma leads the all-time series 48-25-1 with Oklahoma, but the Wildcats are 19-11 against the Sooners in the Big 12 era. Head Coach Suzie Fritz is 12-8 against OU and 6-4 on the road. Oklahoma has won the last four meetings, which is the longest winning streak for the Sooners in the Big 12 era in the series.

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 210-122 gives her a winning percentage of .633.

Oklahoma: Santiago Restrepo (East Stroudsburg ‘86) is in his eighth year leading the Sooners where he has turned the program into a regular NCAA Tournament team. Oklahoma has been to the postseason four of the last five years and reached the Regional Semifinals last year.

Scouting the Sooners
Oklahoma returned six starters from last year’s team that reached the Regional Semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. The team has five seniors on the roster, three of them have extensive experience. The key cogs in the wheel for the Sooners are senior setter Brianne Barker and senior right side hitter Suzy Boulavsky.

Barker is one of the nation’s top setters and directs the offense to a team hitting percentage of .252 and 13.40 kills per set. Barker also plays a key role on defense as she is second on the team in digs.

Boulavsky leads the team in kills averaging 3.27 per set on a .306 hitting percentage. Her numbers get even better in conference play where she is averaging 3.42 kills and hitting .314. Against Kansas las weekend, Boulavsky pounded out 14 kills while hitting .306 in the 3-2 victory.

Another player to watch for the Sooners will be middle blocker Sallie McLaurin. The sophomore emerged last season as a go-to player and defensive presence at the net for OU, and she has continued that into this season. McLaurin is stuffing 1.61 blocks per set in league action to lead the conference. She also is averaging 2.59 kills a set and hitting .364 on the year. In the win over Kansas, McLaurin had 10 block assists.

Similar to what one Wildcat did last season, the Sooners have a two-sport athlete on their team this year. After completing her volleyball eligibility last year, JuliAnne Chisholm joined the K-State women’s basketball team and she will play again this year. Oklahoma senior Carlie Roethlisberger joined the volleyball team this season after completing her basketball eligibility. She has made an impact as well in her limited action on the court.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
K-State is 15-6 on the year after besting in-state rival Kansas on Wednesday night on the road. The Wildcats are currently in fifth place in the Big 12 standings after being picked to finish eighth by the league’s coaches in the preseason.

The Wildcats are one of the top blocking teams in the Big 12 again in 2011 averaging 2.56 blocks per set in league action and 2.61 overall. The conference mark ranks third in the league trailing only Texas Tech and Oklahoma. The overall mark puts the Wildcats among the best teams in the nation standing at 25th.

Recently, K-State had one of its most impressive blocking performances on the year at Texas 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.

Blocks were still coming up big for the Wildcats on Wednesday against KU, and the Wildcats posted 9.5 on the night. Although the Jayhawks tallied more blocks on the night, K-State utilized their opportunities to grab the momentum with their blocks and put the Jayhawks away in four sets as KU has proven to be a strong team early in matches.

Sophomore middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger is still one of the top players in the league as she is contributing significant numbers in nearly every statistical category. She is third in the league in kills during conference play (3.96) and leads overall (4.49). Lilla Porubek has improved her kill production steadily of late to now stand eighth overall (3.34) and sixth in conference play (3.79). As a team, K-State is third in the league during conference play averaging 13.71 kills and 12.67 assists.

Killer Kaitlynn
Kaitlynn Pelger is leading the Big 12 Conference in kills as she is averaging 4.49 kills per set through 21 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 .328 and ranks seventh in the league. Pelger also has eight double-doubles to her name this season as she is playing all six rotations from her middle blocker position and digging 2.72 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 three of seven categories. She ranks 17th in kills per set and fourth in points (5.60) through last week’s matches trailing only Northern Illinois’ Lauren Wicinksi, Georgia Tech’s Monique Mead and Louisville’s Lola Arslanbekova. Pelger also ranks in blocks (67th, 1.15) and is just outside the top 100 in aces and hitting percentage.

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.

“Por”ing it On
Sophomore outside hitter Lilla Porubek has continued where she left off her freshman campaign as she is averaging 3.34 kills per set and ranks sixth 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 0.22 aces per set.

Porubek has led the team in kills in three of the last five 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. Against Kansas on Wednesday, Porubek pounded out 15 kills over the four sets along with a .303 hitting percentage. 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 2.27 kills per set and hitting .222 on the year.

On Wednesday, Ludwig posted nine kills and six digs to play a key role in the victory for the Wildcats. She had four kills and hit .571 in the fourth set alone to apply pressure late to the Jayhawks. 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.

Packed with Purple
Ahearn Field House is again rocking in 2011 with an average attendance of more than 1,400 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 26th with an average of 1,455. K-State is fifth in the conference in attendance trailing only Missouri (7th, 2679), Texas (9th, 2481), Iowa State (11th, 2367) and Texas A&M (23rd, 1542).

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.