Wildcats Battle Cyclones on ESPNU

Kuulei Kabalis

Nov. 13, 2012

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – Two of the top volleyball teams in the country will be on a national stage Wednesday evening when the No. 20 K-State Wildcats travel to take on the No. 19 Iowa State Cyclones on ESPNU. First serve from Hilton Coliseum is set for 5 p.m. with a national broadcast for fans to see the conference rivals battle in a match with heavy implications in the Big 12 standings.

Wednesday evening’s matches across the conference can either begin to separate the top three teams or create an even bigger traffic jam near the top with four teams within half a game of second place. Iowa State currently holds second place by half a game and the Wildcats are 1.5 back with two weeks left in the season to jockey for position.

The Wildcats snapped an eight-match losing streak to the Cyclones the first time they met this season and posted the highest hitting percentage Iowa State has allowed this season. K-State will be up against a team that has found its rhythm of late and hopes to halt the Cyclones from winning their seventh straight match in Big 12 Conference play.

It will be a contrast of styles with K-State posting one of the top offenses in the country and Iowa State one of the best defenses. The Cyclones are holding opponents to .172 hitting in conference play and are digging 17.47 balls as well. K-State is 22nd in the nation in offensive hitting percentage and second in the conference behind only No. 3 Texas. Iowa State does rank 24th in kills per set to provide a strong amount of firepower but the Cyclones are not as efficient hitting .235 compared to K-State’s .262.

On the Tube
ESPNU will broadcast the match Wednesday with Adam Amin on play by play and Maria Taylor providing color commentary. It will also be available for fans online at WatchESPN.com and the Watch ESPN app for smart phones and tablets.

On the Airwaves
Wednesday’s match can be heard on 1350 KMAN with Rob Voelker calling the action. Pregame coverage will begin at 4:30 p.m. from Hilton Coliseum.

Live stats for Wednesday’s match can be found at cyclones.com with stats provided by NeuLion. A link will also be posted to kstatesports.com.

Live audio of 1350 KMAN’s radio call can be found at kstatesports.com as well.

The Series
Iowa State leads the all-time series 44-37 grabbing the advantage after winning eight in a row from 2008-2011. K-State snapped the streak in Manhattan earlier this year sweeping the Cyclones. Since Christy Johnson-Lynch took over at Iowa State the Cyclones are 10-6 against K-State.

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

Iowa State: Christy Johnson-Lynch (Nebraska ‘96) has taken Iowa State from the bottom of the Big 12 to one of the top programs in the country in a short time. After taking over the program in 2005, the Cyclones have been to the NCAA Tournament all but her first year. Iowa State has made deep runs to the Regional Semifinals four times and advancing to the Regional Final two of those years.

Scouting the Cyclones
After playing a challenging nonconference schedule, the Iowa State Cyclones stand in second place in the Big 12 Conference standings and are currently ranked No. 19 in the AVCA Coaches Poll. The Cyclones are 16-7 on the year with five of their losses coming to ranked teams and one that has moved into the rankings since.

The Cyclones are one of the top defensive teams in the nation as they dig 16.34 balls a set thanks to the tandem of senior libero Kristen Hahn and senior outside hitter Rachel Hockaday on the back row. Hahn is posting 5.24 digs per set overall and her numbers have been even better in conference play where she averages 5.60 digs to lead the category by nearly an entire dig per set. She also has won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week seven times this season. Hockaday is posting 2.93 digs in league action

Offensively, Iowa State is led by outside hitter Victoria Hurtt as she is pounding out 3.65 kills per set in conference play to rank fourth in the league. Hurtt was limited to only eight kills on Saturday at Oklahoma and hit for a lower percentage at .185, but the Cyclones have other weapons to score points.

Recently, freshman Andie Malloy has been receiving more playing time at outside hitter and tallied 12 kills in the win over Oklahoma and nine in a sweep of Texas Tech. She is posting 2.36 kills in her limited action so far.

Senior Jamie Straube leads a strong group of middle blockers as well for Iowa State. Straube and Tenisha Matlock both average more than 2.00 kills per set and provide Iowa State with two options up the middle. Their blocking numbers are lower in comparison to other middle blockers, however, as the Cyclones do not post a large number of stuffs averaging just 1.65 overall and 1.85 in conference play. The 1.65 overall is the lowest in the conference.

Iowa State is on a bit of a hot streak entering Wednesday’s match as the Cyclones have won six straight matches after losing to Texas in five sets. The Cyclones won the first two sets on the road against the Longhorns before falling. Since that loss, Iowa State has only dropped one set, dropping the third set to No. 17 Kansas at home.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
The Wildcats are 8-5 in Big 12 Conference play with three matches left on the schedule. K-State is currently in a tie for fourth place with Oklahoma. The Wildcats have two road matches this week before heading home to close the season against the Sooners on Nov. 24.

K-State is coming off a sweep over the TCU Horned Frogs on Saturday that saw the Wildcats dominate the first two sets then come from behind late to win the third in extra points. The Wildcats trailed 22-24 and score four straight points to complete the sweep and post their 16th 3-0 win of the season.

In the win against TCU, the Wildcats hit .315 as a team marking the 10th time they have hit .300 or higher in a match this season. That offensive efficiency is why the Wildcats currently rank 22nd in the nation in team hitting percentage at .262. K-State is on pace to have one of the best hitting percentages in school history, and threatening for the top spot if the Wildcats can hit for high percentages over the closing weeks.

The last time K-State faced Iowa State the Wildcats snapped an eight-match losing streak to the Cyclones. K-State hit an impressive .417 in the match, which is the highest percentage allowed by Iowa State.

Wednesday’s matches across the Big 12 will have heavy implications on the conference standings. With Iowa State currently alone in second place by half a game and only 1.5 games separating K-State and OU from the Cyclones in fourth place. Kansas is in third with a 9-4 record in conference play and the Jayhawks play host to OU at 6 p.m. This weekend, the Cyclones travel to Baylor, and the Bears have proven to be able to knock opponents off at home defeating a ranked KU team two weeks ago.

Middle blockers Kaitlynn Pelger and Alex Muff continue providing a strong amount of offense for the Wildcats as both have posted 10 or more kills in nearly every conference match. Pelger is second in the league in kills during conference play and Muff ranks second in hitting percentage.

In Saturday’s win, Pelger posted 15 kills and hit .500 while Muff added nine kills to go with her .429 hitting clip. Senior opposite Kathleen Ludwig also had a strong showing with six kills and a .316 percentage.

The Wildcats are still ranked among the top teams in the country in the polls and have the stats to back it up. In addition to ranking 22nd in hitting percentage the Wildcats are 18th in the NCAA in assists per set in the NCAA’s latest statistics report on Monday averaging 13.42. Thanks in part to senior setter Caitlyn Donahue’s direction the Wildcats are also killing at a rate of 14.14 per set to rank 33rd.

The Wildcats are posting those strong numbers thanks to a number of individuals having great seasons for the team. Donahue ranks sixth in the NCAA in assists (11.95) 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 28th in the nation this season at 1.35 per set and with her all-around game Pelger is 50th in points.

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 midway through the season.

Pelger is averaging 3.78 kills per set and has increased her defensive production on the back row to average 2.73 digs this year. The junior has tallied eight double-doubles on the year with seven 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 2.56 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 .362 to lead the team in that category and rank second in the conference.

Muff has posted10 or more kills in seven of the last nine matches and hit .392 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. Last weekend at Texas, Muff hit .455 with 11 kills and on Monday night against KU Muff tallied 10 kills on 18 swings to hit .556.

During her hot streak, Muff has hit .400 or better in half of those matches, including clips of .593 against Texas Tech and the .556 mark against KU. In that match against Texas Tech three weeks ago, Muff posted a new career-high 17 kills in the. Her .593 hitting percentage also ranks fourth in school history for a five-set match.  

Defensively over the last nine matches, Muff has averaged 1.16 blocks, dropping slightly after only stuffing one block against TCU on Saturday. She now ranks third in the league in that category with 1.18 in conference matches overall.

For her career, Muff ranks fifth in school history in block assists with 396 and is poised to move into fourth if she continues at her current pace. She has now posted three straight seasons with at least 100 total blocks.

K-State Ranked No. 20
The Wildcats dropped three spots to No. 20 in this week’s AVCA Coaches Top 25 Poll after falling at home to then-No. 23 Kansas on Wednesday and defeating TCU at home on Saturday. A week after seeing four teams in the Top 10 lose to unranked opponents there was less moving and shaking near the top of the poll.

After the best start in school history at 12-0, K-State climbed to No. 11 seven weeks ago and still remains 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 holds onto the No. 3 spot with only three losses on the year. After defeating K-State and then taking Texas to five sets at home, the Kansas Jayhawks moved up one spot to No. 22. The Iowa State Cyclones moved up one to No. 19 with K-State’s drop.

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 falling four spots to No. 14 after losing on the road to Michigan and Michigan State. Dayton held steady at No. 12. The Wildcats defeated both the Gophers and the Flyers. The Creighton Bluejays are ranked No. 23 this week after cracking the poll for the first time in school history last week at No. 25. After cracking the Top 25 three weeks ago, St. Mary’s dropped out last week but is the top vote getter outside the Top 25.

Winning Formula
The NCAA released its updated RPI rankings on Monday, and the computers continue to love the K-State Wildcats. With a 21-5 record entering this week the Wildcats are currently No. 15 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 ranked 32 or higher in this week’s RPI, including three in the top 10 in Texas (3), Kansas (7) and Minnesota (8).

Elite Company
K-State’s football team is a perfect 10-0 and ranked No. 2 in both the Associated Press Poll and USA Today Coaches Poll following a 23-10 victory at TCU this weekend. With K-State’s No. 20-ranked volleyball team at 21-5, 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. 15 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 18 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. 1 in both football polls and No. 4 in volleyball.

Cleaning Up
K-State currently stands at 21-5, but the way the Wildcats have been winning is just as impressive. A total of 16 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 22 sweeps and unranked Central Arkansas has 18. K-State opponent Dayton is tied for third with 17 after this weekend’s action with No. 2 Penn State and No. 14 BYU. Four other teams are tied with K-State with 16 sweeps in No. 3 Texas, No. 4 Oregon, No. 8 USC and Towson. Two Top 10 teams trail K-State in the category with 14 sweeps in No. 5 Washington and No. 10 Louisville.

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.