Sunflower Showdown Comes to Ahearn

Kaitlynn Pelger

Nov. 6, 2012

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – The Dillons Sunflower Showdown returns to Manhattan as the No. 17 K-State Wildcats prepare to host the No. 23 Kansas Jayhawks at Ahearn Field House. With the season coming down to the final weeks positioning in the conference standings is getting tight and the Wildcats trail KU by one game. First serve is set for 7 p.m. from Ahearn Field House with the Wildcats looking to get a win after falling on the road in Lawrence earlier. The match will be broadcast on FOX Sports Midwest by K-StateHD.TV.

K-State is currently tied for third place in the conference and a win would put the Wildcats in a tie for second place with KU and Iowa State with four matches to play. In their first meeting with KU, the Jayhawks were able to defeat the Wildcats in four sets. It marked the first time in the long history of the series that both teams were ranked when the Sunflower Showdown was played.

Wednesday’s match will pit some of the best middle blockers and setters in the nation against each other. The combination of senior Alex Muff and junior Kaitlynn Pelger has been hot lately for the Wildcats up the middle. Pelger continues to be one of the best attackers in the conference and one of only four middle blockers in the nation to play all six rotations. Muff has been more efficient on offense during conference play to rank fifth in hitting percentage. Pelger and Muff will be up against KU’s Caroline Jarmoc, who ranks 14th in the nation in hitting percentage and 28th in blocks.

The top two setters in the Big 12 will be on the court in Ahearn with K-State’s Caitlyn Donahue ranking seventh in assists in the NCAA this year. Erin McNorton ranks sixth for KU as both are leading two of the top offenses in the country this year. Both make significant contributions on defense as well with each posting eight double-doubles on the year.

This edition of the Dillons Sunflower Showdown also will be 90’s Night as the K-State Fan Experience and Sales Office continues its decade themed promotions this season. The first 250 students at the match will receive a free decade themed gift. Fans are encouraged to dress in their best 90’s garb and similar to other decade nights, music from the 90’s will be played throughout the night.

On the Tube
Wednesday’s match will be broadcast on FOX Sports Midwest by K-StateHD.TV. The match will still be available online for K-StateHD.TV subscribers allowing fans without FOX Sports Midwest or outside its viewing area to watch the match. Brian Smoller and Liz Wegner will host the pregame, intermission and postgame coverage and the broadcast will use the audio play by play from 1350 KMAN’s broadcast with Rob Voelker.

On the Airwaves
Wednesday’s match will be aired on 1350 KMAN with Rob Voelker calling the action. Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.

Friday’s match can be heard online at with Rob Voelker’s call of the action. Live stats will be available at and provided by CBS GameTracker. The FOX Sports Midwest broadcast produced by K-StateHD.TV will also be available for K-StateHD.TV subscribers.

The Series
K-State leads the all-time series at 62-42-1 after dropping the last meeting in Lawrence earlier this season. That marked the first time both the Wildcats and Jayhawks were ranked when they played each other in the history of the series. Head Coach Suzie Fritz is 18-5 against KU and the Wildcats lead the series during the Big 12 era 28-5.

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

Kansas: Ray Bechard (Fort Hays State ‘80) is in his 15th year leading the Jayhawks. He has the team looking for a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since back-to-back-back trips from 2003 through 2005.

Scouting the Jayhawks
With 20 wins on the season and the No. 10 RPI in the latest rankings, the Jayhawks are poised to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005. Kansas went to three straight tournaments before ending that run in the 2006 season. They enter Wednesday’s contest ranked No. 23 in the AVCA Coaches Poll and in a tie for second place with Iowa State in the Big 12 Conference standings.

Kansas is led by middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc. The junior is averaging 3.59 kills and hitting an efficient .393 on te year. Her numbers are only slightly lower in conference play at 3.23 kills and .379 hitting. In the first match against K-State this season, Jarmoc shined with 11 kills and 12 blocks to held KU snap a four-match losing streak to the Wildcats. Her .379 percentage ranks second in the Big 12.

Outside hitter Sara McClinton also is a force for the Jayhawks posting 3.05 kills in conference action. She tallied 19 in the win over K-State while hitting .545 for the match.

The Jayhawks spread their offense around as three different players rank among the top 10 in the Big 12 in kills during conference play. Jarmoc ranks sixth with McClinton eight. Junior outside hitter Catherine Carmichael from Manhattan stands ninth averaging 2.90 in conference matches.

That distribution is due to setter Erin McNorton. She is averaging 11.27 assists in conference play and 11.90 overall. She ranks sixth in the NCAA in assists so far this season, just ahead of K-State’s Caitlyn Donahue. With McNorton’s guidance KU ranks 27th in the nation in kills and 59th in hitting percentage.

Defensively, KU is led by junior libero Brianne Riley. She is posting 4.80 digs in conference play to rank second.

In their last match, the Jayhawks fell on the road to the Baylor Lady Bears. KU fell in four sets to bring its road conference record to 3-3. The first set was all Baylor with the Bears winning 25-10 and holding KU to a negative hitting percentage. After that, all three other sets were decided by the minimum of two points with the second and third sets going to extra points.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
The Wildcats are 7-4 in Big 12 Conference play with five matches left on the schedule. K-State is currently in a tie for third place with Oklahoma. Kansas and Iowa State are each one game ahead in the standings at 8-3. K-State dropped one home match to then-No. 9 Texas during the first half of conference play. The Wildcats are still to host TCU and Oklahoma.

Last week, the Wildcats only had one contest falling on the road in a tightly fought match at No. 7 Texas. The Longhorns and Wildcats battled closely in the second and third sets before Texas was able to push away late and get the victory.

Middle blockers Kaitlynn Pelger and Alex Muff continued providing a strong amount of offense for the Wildcats against Texas, but the block of the Longhorns was too much to overcome on the outside. Pelger and Muff combined for 23 of K-State’s 41 kills. Muff hit .455 for the match to keep her hot streak going and Pelger also was efficient at .286.

K-State hit .207 for the match, one of the highest hitting percentages surrendered this year by the Longhorns. It marked just the seventh time this year the Longhorns have allowed a team to hit .200 or higher. Texas was able to counter K-State’s offense with an even more efficient one hitting .352 and seeing three players reach double digits in kills.

The Wildcats have a strong defense at the net with senior middle blocker Alex Muff ranking third in the conference in blocks at 1.39 overall and 1.24 in league action. K-State is averaging 2.32 blocks in Big12 play, trailing Texas and KU. At 2.60 per set, the Wildcats are ranked 39th in the nation in blocking.

Despite the loss to No. 7 Texas, the Wildcats are still ranked among the top teams in the country in the polls and have the stats to back it up. The Wildcats are 23rd in the NCAA in assists per set in the NCAA’s latest statistics report on Monday averaging 13.31. With senior setter Caitlyn Donahue directing the offense the team is also ranked21st in the NCAA in hitting percentage at .261 and 40th in kills averaging 14.05.

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 (11.84) and in league play leads the conference by a wide margin. She also has eight double-doubles on the year. Muff is one of the best blockers in K-State history and is showing it by ranking 22nd in the nation this season at 1.39 per set. Pelger is 45th in points while standing just outside the top 50 in kills and hitting percentage.

Round and Round
Middle blockers rarely play all six rotations in volleyball, especially now with additional substitutions allowed this season. That puts K-State’s Kaitlynn Pelger in a select group as she is playing all six rotations for a second year in a row for the Wildcats.

Pelger is among four middle blockers playing all the way around at the NCAA Division I level this year joining Madeline Westman of UNLV, Xitlali Herrera from UTEP play all six rotations and Michigan’s Jennifer Cross, who recently became a six rotation player for the Wolverines.

Pelger is averaging 3.77 kills per set and has increased her defensive production on the back row to average 2.78 digs this year. The junior has tallied seven double-doubles on the year with six of them coming by way of kills and digs.

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 2.53 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 .340 to lead the team in that category and rank fifth in the conference.

Muff has posted10 or more kills in six of the last seven matches and hit .368 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 hot 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, Muff again had 10 kills. This weekend at Texas, Muff hit .455 with 11 kills.

Three weeks ago, 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.  After her career day, Muff had only six kills at West Virginia but backed that up with 10 kills and four blocks against Baylor.

Defensively over the last seven matches, Muff has averaged 1.24 blocks. She now ranks third in the league in that category with 1.24 in conference matches overall.

For her career, Muff ranks seventh in school history in block assists with 390 and is poised to move into the fop five soon. She has now posted three straight seasons with at least 100 total blocks.

K-State Ranked No. 17
The Wildcats dropped one spot to No. 17 in this week’s AVCA Coaches Top 25 Poll after falling on the road at No. 7 Texas and thanks to a number of upsets above the Wildcats in the rankings. Four teams in the Top 10 all lost to unranked opponents over the weekend. In addition, two other teams in the Top 15 lost causing a number of teams to slide down in the Top 25 this week.

After the best start in school history at 12-0, K-State climbed to No. 11 seven 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, as Texas benefited the most from the Top 10 losses. With their strong play recently and only three losses on the year, the Longhorns now stand at No. 3. After a loss at Baylor on Saturday, the Kansas Jayhawks dropped three spots for the second straight week down to No. 23. The Iowa State Cyclones moved up one to No. 20.

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 climbed to No. 12 thanks to the losss ahead of the Flyers. The Wildcats defeated both the Gophers and the Flyers. After cracking the Top 25 two weeks ago, St. Mary’s drops out this week but makes room for a different K-State opponent. The Creighton Bluejays are ranked No. 25 this week, marking the first time in school history the team is ranked. St. Mary’s is still listed among the teams also receiving votes and are essentially No. 29.

Winning Formula
The NCAA released its updated RPI rankings on Monday, and the computers continue to love the K-State Wildcats. With a 20-4 record entering this week the Wildcats moved up to No. 11 in the latest RPI report. 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 16 campus sites to be determined by the committee.

Eight of K-State’s opponents are in the Top 40 of the RPI, including three in the top 10 in Texas (3), Minnesota (6) and Kansas (10).

Elite Company
K-State’s football team is a perfect 9-0 and ranked No. 3 following a victory over Oklahoma State this weekend. With K-State’s No. 17-ranked volleyball team at 20-4, the Wildcats join 10 other schools that can boast the same accomplishment so far with their football and volleyball teams ranked.

The Wildcats are joined by fellow Big 12 school Texas to have football and volleyball both ranked with the Longhorns’ football team moving to No. 17 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 19 by the AP. The Pac-12 has four schools on the list as UCLA football continues to move up the polls this week. Oregon is the only school with both teams in the Top 10. Oregon is No. 2 in both football polls and No. 4 in volleyball.

Cleaning Up
K-State currently stands at 20-4, but the way the Wildcats have been winning is just as impressive. A total of 15 of those victories have been 3-0 sweeps of their opponents. That total already far surpasses last year’s eight sweeps and is among the most in the nation. Western Kentucky leads the nation with 21 sweeps and K-State opponent Dayton is second with 17 after this weekend’s action. Three teams are just ahead of K-State with 16 sweeps in No. 3 Texas, No. 14 BYU and unranked Towson. Four other teams are now tied with K-State with 15 sweeps.

Some of the top programs in the nation are on this list with the Wildcats at 15 sweeps, including No. 2 Penn State, No. 4 Oregon and No. 8 USC. One Top 10 team trails K-State in the category with 14 sweeps in  No. 5 Washington.

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. 20 in the nation. The 2012 season as been even better with the Wildcats ranked No. 20 in this week’s NCAA attendance report after playing on the road, averaging more than 1,800 per match after.

More than 3,000 fans packed the stands four 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 and 2,943 against Baylor for Homecoming, K-State fans are averaging more than 2,200 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.