Wildcats Await Aggies at Ahearn

Kaitlynn Pelger

Nov. 4, 2011

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – The Kansas State volleyball returns home Saturday to take on the Texas A&M Aggies in a stretch of matches that will test the Wildcats. K-State’s next four matches are all against the teams who beat the Wildcats during the first half of Big 12 Conference play. The Wildcats are hoping to return the favor over the next few weeks starting with the Aggies at 3 p.m. Saturday. K-State currently stands in fifth place and just half a game ahead of Missouri and Baylor in the standings. A win could help close the gap between the Wildcats and Oklahoma Sooners in fourth place.

The Wildcats struggled on the road against the Aggies in their first meeting this season falling in straight sets as Texas A&M got the win 25-22, 25-20, 25-18 led by outside hitter Kelsey Black. Black controlled the match with 16 kills on a strong .357 hitting percentage as the Wildcats could not match the Aggies’ effort hitting just .176 as a team compared to A&M’s .250.

K-State has location on its side for this match as the Aggies are only 2-13 all-time in Manhattan. The Aggies’ only victories in Ahearn Field House have come last season and in 2006. In 2009, the Wildcats defeated Texas A&M when the Aggies were ranked No. 23 in a dramatic five-set match that was K-State’s first win over a ranked opponent since the 2007 season opener against No. 14 Cal Poly.

Saturday’s match will be K-State’s Dig Pink match as fans are encouraged to wear pink to the match in support of breast cancer awareness. The K-State Ticket Office is also offering $3 tickets as part of a Wildcat Weekend. Fans can purchase the $3 general admission bench tickets when they show their ticket to the men’s basketball exhibition game for Sunday.

On the Airwaves
Saturday’s match will be aired live online only on kstatesports.com with 1350 KMAN’s Rob Voelker calling the action. The broadcast will not be available over the airwaves due to pregame coverage of the K-State at Oklahoma State football game.

The match will again be broadcast on K-State’s online network K-StateHD.TV for fans subscribing to the service. Fans can subscribe to K-StateHD.TV for a monthly fee of $9.95 or annually for $79.95. Live stats provided by CBS GameTracker may also be found on kstatesports.com. The audio broadcast will be available at kstatesports.com as well.

The Series
Kansas State leads the all-time series against Texas A&M 18-14. The Aggies have defeated the Wildcats just twice on their home floor with Texas A&M holding a 2-13 record in Ahearn Field House. Those two wins came last season and in 2006. Head Coach Suzie Fritz is 8-2 at home against A&M.

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 211-124 gives her a winning percentage of .630.

Texas A&M: Laurie Corbelli (San Francisco ‘88) is in her 19th year leading the Aggies and 26th overall as a head coach. She has taken the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament 14 times in her tenure. After a three-year hiatus, Corbelli returned the Aggies to the postseason in 2009 reaching the Regional Semifinals.

Scouting the Aggies
The Wildcats were swept by the Aggies in their first matchup this season and will have to slow down outside hitter Kelsey Black in order to get redemption. The senior leads the team with 3.39 kills per set but has been slowed in conference play to just 3.10 on a .157 hitting percentage. Black was a member of the 2009 USA National Junior Team and was unanimous Preseason All-Big 12 selection by the league’s coaches.

Black was joined by setter Allie Sawatzky on the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. The sophomore ranks fourth in the conference in assists per set averaging 10.34. In a win over Texas Tech on Wednesday, Sawatzky spread the offense around with Black, Lindsey Miller and Alisia Kastmo.

The defense is led by libero Megan Pendergast. Big 12 volleyball fans will be familiar with her name as she transferred to A&M this season after playing two years at Nebraska in a backup role. She currently leads the team with 3.92 digs per set and ranks fifth in the league. With her help the Aggies rank third in the conference in digs. Black also plays a major role on the defense as she contributes 3.26 digs per set to the effort.

A&M is not a strong blocking team as the Aggies post 1.85 blocks a set to rank last in the league. Only one player is averaging 1.00 blocks per set individually.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
K-State is 16-8 on the year after falling on the road to Baylor for the third straight year. The loss brought the conference standings closer after the Wildcats had just created a two-game lead over Baylor and Missouri for fifth place prior to taking on the Bears.

Junior setter Caitlyn Donahue has highlighted the Wildcats’ play of late with as she posted the first triple-double of her career against Missouri last week with 48 assists, 16 digs and 10 kills. It was the 18th triple-double in school history and the first since Gabby Guerre posted her fifth triple-double on Nov. 3, 2004 at Iowa State. Donahue notched the triple-double early on in the fourth set of the 3-2 win with her 10th kill. She followed the triple-double with another double-double at Baylor to give her 10 for the season.

Sophomore middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger also continues to play strong with her 10 20-kill match of the season. She posted her11th double-double at Baylor with 20 kills and 14 digs.

Five Wildcats reached double digits in digs in the loss to Baylor as libero Kuulei Kabalis led with 30 digs for a career-high. Donahue had 16, and Tristan McCarty added 12 in the losing effort. Kathleen Ludwig had a season-high 17 kills and tallied 10 digs to give three Wildcats double-doubles in the match.

Killer Kaitlynn
Kaitlynn Pelger is leading the Big 12 Conference in kills as she is averaging 4.52 kills per set through 24 matches this season. The sophomore middle blocker has already posted 10 matches with 20 or more kills, including 32 against Drake and most recently 20 against at Baylor. 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 .330 and ranks seventh in the league. Pelger also has 11 double-doubles to her name this season as she is playing all six rotations from her middle blocker position and digging 2.82 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 two of seven categories and is just outside the mark in two others. She ranks 13th in kills per set and fourth in points (5.49) through last week’s matches trailing only Northern Illinois’ Lauren Wicinksi, Georgia Tech’s Monique Mead and Louisville’s Lola Arslanbekova. Pelger is 103rd in blocks and 101st in 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.

Triple-Double for Donahue
Junior setter Caitlyn Donahue has grown more comfortable in only her second year playing the role, and it showed on Wednesday night as she posted the first triple-double by a Wildcat in nearly seven years. Donahue had 48 assists, 16 digs and 10 kills to help guide K-State to a 3-2 win over Missouri. She got the triple-double early in the fourth set when she tallied her 10th kill, to become the seventh Wildcat to accomplish the feat. It was the 18th triple-double in school history.

Donahue currently is second the Big 12 in assists per set at 11.23 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 and her triple-double also marks her ninth double-double of the season.

The Overland Park native is directing the offense to a hitting percentage of .231 to rank sixth in the conference. The team’s kill average of 13.67 is third in the league, and the marks get better in conference play. K-State is averaging 13.79 kills per set in league play to stand third thanks to the direction of Donahue.

Donahue is not only the top setter in the league so far this season, she is among the nation’s best. Her average of 11.23 following last week’s matches ranks 20th in the NCAA this season. Of the 19 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 14.2, including No. 4 USC and No. 7 Cal.

Against Baylor last week, Donahue posted her 10th double-double on the year as she has played a major role defensively for the Wildcats. She posted 51 assists and 16 digs in the 3-2 loss to the Bears. Donahue has had a double-double in four straight matches.

“Por”ing it On
Sophomore outside hitter Lilla Porubek has continued where she left off her freshman campaign as she is averaging 3.24 kills per set and ranks ninth in the Big 12. She has posted 10 or more kills in every match but three thus far, including a career-high 23 against at 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 0.20 aces per set.

Last time against Texas A&M, Porubek put together one of her most consistent performances of the season as she pounded out 12 kills. She also hit .476 for her new career-high in a match. She followed that with 15 kills over four sets at Kansas along with a .303 hitting percentage. The native of Budapest, Hungary, has increased her kill numbers each of the last few weeks to steadily rise up the rankings within the Big 12.

Sensational Southpaw
Junior opposite Kathleen Ludwig has found her stroke during conference play for the Wildcats to provide more punch on the offense and give K-State another threat. She is producing 2.29 kills per set in Big 12 play after a season-high 17 kills at Baylor last week. She also adds 0.21 aces. Her defense has also come up big at times for the Wildcats averaging 1.68 digs.

At Baylor last week, Ludwig posted 17 kills and 10 digs to notch her third double-double of the season. Two of her best matches this season both came against Baylor as she joined two of her teammates in double-digit kills with 11 and a hitting percentage of .296 at home against the Bears. During that win, Ludwig also provided four digs and two blocks. She backed that up with 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 21st with an average of 1,603. K-State is fourth in the conference in attendance trailing only Texas (7th; 2,665), Missouri (12th; 2,326) and Iowa State (14th; 2,291). Texas A&M comes in at 22nd with 1,593 per match.

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 and again when they hosted Missouri during Homecoming Week. They 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.

Kuulei Can Play
Junior college transfer Kuulei Kabalis has earned the starting libero spot for the Wildcats and is averaging 3.71 digs per set so far this season. The native Hawaiian tallied 30 digs in a loss at Baylor last week for a new career-high. It marked the fourth time this season she has cracked the 20-dig mark in a match with three of them coming in conference play where she is averaging 4.18 digs a set and ranks sixth in the league. She also has proven to be one of the team’s top servers to keep teams off balance and is tied for second 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.