Wildcats Begin Second Half of Big 12 Play

Kuulei Kabalis

Oct. 23, 2012

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – The No. 16 K-State Wildcats make their first trip to West Virginia to face the Mountaineers on Wednesday night from Morgantown in a match that starts the second half of conference play. In their first meeting with West Virginia, the Wildcats got the sweep in Manhattan and are looking for the series sweep on the year and to remain in third place in the conference standings. First serve is set for 6:30 p.m. eastern from WVU Coliseum.

K-State (18-3, 5-3) is coming off a 3-2 win over Texas Tech on Saturday and West Virginia (8-14, 0-8) is winless in conference action after dropping its only match of the week to Baylor on Saturday. West Virginia has been able to jump on opponents early in home matches this year with TCU, Kansas and Texas Tech all losing the first set in West Virginia’s home gym. The Mountaineers nearly defeated TCU winning the first two sets before the Horned Frogs were able to come from behind.

The Wildcats are 2-2 in road conference matches this season with losses coming at Oklahoma and Kansas. Last year K-State went 3-5 on the road in the Big 12. The Wildcats will look to improve on that record this year with four more road games on the schedule as they eye a high finish in the conference standings and a possible Top 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

West Virginia is 7-7 on its home floor this season. The Mountaineers went 8-6 in their nonconference schedule after hosting three tournaments. They went 7-3 in those home nonconference matches.

On the Airwaves
Wednesday’s match can be heard live on 1350 KMAN with Rob Voelker calling the action. The match will also be available online at kstatesports.com.

There will be free a live video stream of the match available at WVUsports.com provided by Mountaineer TV. Live stats will be available at kstatesports.com and wvusports.com provided by CBS GameTracker.

The Series
K-State leads the all-time series 1-0 after winning the first-ever meeting in Manhattan in September.

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

West Virginia: Jill Kramer (TCU ‘00) is in her third year coaching West Virginia. Prior to taking over at West Virginia, Kramer saw success as an assistant coach at Virginia, Alabama and UT San Antonio. Upon her arrival the Mountaineers posted wins against regional and Big East rivals for the first time in years.

Scouting the Mountaineers
West Virginia is led by a pair of freshman outside hitters in Nikki Attea and Hannah Sackett. Attea is posting 2.41 kills per set in conference play and Sackett is contributing 2.28. The roster is young for the Mountaineers with seven freshmen and only one senior.

Setter Brittany Sample is one of those freshmen and she is posting 9.42 assists per game while also adding 2.69 digs defensively. With her contribution on defense, Sample is second in the conference with 11 double-doubles overall. Freshman libero Anna Panagiotakopoulos leads the team in digs with 3.40. In conference play she ranks seventh in the league with 3.42 per set.

The Mountaineers are one of the top serving teams in the Big 12 with 1.48 aces per set in conference matches. That mark is just behind K-State’s 1.50 per set as Sackett and Evyn McCoy both rank seventh individually.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
The Wildcats are 5-3 in Big 12 Conference play through the first half of the league schedule and stand in a tie for third place. K-State dropped two road matches in the first half and look to get another road win on Wednesday. The Wildcats are coming off a home victory over the Texas Tech Red Raiders in five sets.

The win over Texas Tech saw some of the top performances in school history as senior middle blocker Alex Muff posted 17 kills and hit .593. Her hitting percentage ranks fourth in school history for a five-set match. The team’s hitting percentage of .318 against Tech ranks sixth in school history.

Junior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger had an impressive showing against the Red Raiders as she led the team in both kills and digs with 18 of each. It was a season-best in digs and marked her sixth double-double of the season.

K-State is still ranked among the top teams in the country in the polls and have the stats to back it up. The Wildcats are 16th in the NCAA in assists per set in the NCAA’s latest statistics report on Monday averaging 13.46. With senior setter Caitlyn Donahue directing the offense the team is also ranked17th in the NCAA in hitting percentage at .270 and 26th in kills averaging 14.23. Defensively, K-State is one of the top blocking teams as well stuffing its opponents with 2.56 blocks per set to rank 42nd in the nation.

The Wildcats are posting those strong numbers thanks to a number of individuals having great seasons for the team. Donahue ranks seventh in the NCAA in assists (11.90) and in league play leads the conference by nearly a full assist per set. She also has seven double-doubles on the year. Senior Alex Muff is one of the best blockers in K-State history and is showing it by ranking 22nd in the nation this season at 1.41 per set. Lastly, junior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger is 36th in points while standing just outside the top 50 in kills and hitting percentage.

Hot Hand
Senior middle blocker Alex Muff has been one of the top blockers in the Big 12 Conference her entire career, and now she is adding more offense to her numbers in her final year to give the Wildcats another consistent weapon to go to in conference play thanks to her newfound firepower at the net. Muff is averaging 2.46 kills per set in conference play this season, adding nearly a full kill per set more than her three previous years in league play. She also is hitting .350 to lead the team in that category and rank fourth in the conference.

Muff has posted four straight matches with 10 or more kills and hit .402 over that span. Before this season, she had only nine matches with 10 or more kills. She posted 10 kills and hit .353 against the No. 9 Texas Longhorns to start the streak and followed it with 10 kills on a .400 clip at TCU the next week. She also had six blocks at TCU. Against Kansas last Wednesday, Muff again had 10 kills. On Saturday Muff posted a new career-high 17 kills in a win over Texas Tech. Her .593 hitting percentage also ranks fourth in school history for a five-set match.

Defensively over the last four matches, Muff has averaged 1.20 blocks. She now ranks fifth in the league in that category with 1.21 in conference matches overall.

K-State Ranked No. 16
The Wildcats dropped two spots in this week’s AVCA Coaches Top 25 Poll after splitting action at Kansas and at home against Texas Tech last week. After the best start in school history at 12-0, K-State climbed to No. 11 five weeks ago and 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 remain ranked, and Kansas is this week’s big jumper in the poll up four spots to No. 17 after beating K-State. Texas held steady this week to No. 8, and so did Iowa State at No. 22.

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 holding onto No. 10 and Dayton up three spots to No. 15 this week. St. Mary’s cracked the Top 25 this week as well after upsetting No. 13 San Diego. The Gaels debut this season at No. 25. Two more of K-State’s nonconference opponents are receiving votes. Creighton is just outside the Top 25 as the third leading vote getter and Oregon State are also on the list of teams receiving votes and this week.

Triple Threat
Two weeks ago in a win at TCU the Wildcats accomplished a rare feat. K-State had three players reach double digits in kills, and all three of those players hit at least .400 for the match. The combination of Kaitlynn Pelger, Lilla Porubek and Alex Muff provided the firepower for the victory and did so in commanding fashion. Pelger led the way with 12 kills on a .476 hitting clip. Porubek tallied 11 kills on .409 hitting and Muff added 10 kills to go with her hitting percentage of .400. All three had just two errors apiece.

It is the first time since playing South Dakota State at the Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Invitational (Sept. 10) last year the Wildcats had this type of performance. Against the Jack Rabbits, it was Pelger (15K, .667), Porubek (16K, .433) and Dakota Kaufman (11K, .500) that provided the spark.

Winning Formula
The NCAA released its updated RPI rankings on Monday, and the computers continue to love the K-State Wildcats. With an 18-3 record entering this week the Wildcats stand at No. 12 in the latest RPI report, dropping three spots. 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 this year. The first two rounds of the tournament are played at campus sites to be determined by the committee.

Nine of K-State’s opponents are in the Top 40 of the RPI, including three in the top 10 in Texas (4), Kansas (8), Minnesota (9).

Elite Company
K-State’s football team is a perfect 7-0 and ranked No. 4 following a road victory over No. 15 West Virginia this weekend. With K-State’s No. 16-ranked volleyball team at 18-3, the Wildcats join only eight other schools that can boast the same accomplishment so far with their football and volleyball teams ranked.

The Wildcats were the lone Big 12 school with  to have football and volleyball both ranked, but Texas joined the ranks with the football team coming in at No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Iowa State and Texas were both on the list two weeks ago as well. The Pac-12 has three schools on the list. Oregon and USC are the only schools with both teams in the Top 10. Oregon is No. 2 in both football polls and No. 3 in volleyball. USC is No. 7 in volleyball and moved into the Top 10 in both football polls this week.

Cleaning Up
K-State currently stands at 18-3, but the way the Wildcats have been winning is just as impressive. A total of 14 of those victories have been 3-0 sweeps of their opponents. That total already far surpasses last year’s eight sweeps and trails Western Kentucky and Towson for the most in the nation. The Hilltoppers lead NCAA Division I with 18 sweeps, after posting their 11th straight on Saturday. Towson has 15 sweeps on the year.

Two of the top programs in the nation are tied with K-State with 14 sweeps in No. 3 Oregon and No. 7 USC. No. 1 Penn State, No. 5 Washington, No. 8 Texas and No. 18 BYU are right behind K-State with 13 3-0 victories. Central Arkansas from the Southland Conference also has 13 sweeps, and six other teams have 12 sweeps on the year.

The 3-0 sweeps have come against strong competition as well, including then-No. 22 Iowa State. 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 then-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, and St. Mary’s has defeated three ranked opponents in then-No. 18 Pepperdine, No. 11 BYU and No. 13 San Diego.

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 even better with the Wildcats ranked No. 21 in this week’s NCAA attendance report, averaging nearly 1,800 per match.

More than 3,000 fans packed the stands three weeks ago as the Wildcats played host to No. 9 Texas. It marked the first crowd to crack the 3,000 mark since posting two such attendance marks during 2010.

This season started off strong with more than 2,700 fans in attendance 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.

Conference play has seen some of the largest crowds of the season at Ahearn Field House. In the conference home opener 1,912 fans came to Ahearn Field House to welcome West Virginia to the Big 12 Conference. Then against No. 22 Iowa State, fans filled the stands with 2,060 at Ahearn. With an attendance of 3,044 against Texas, K-State fans are averaging nearly 2,100 strong during Big 12 matches.

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.