Wildcats Ready for UNI in NCAA Tournament

Caitlyn Donahue

Nov. 27, 2012

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MANHATTAN, Kan. – The Kansas State volleyball team made a run to the Sweet 16 last season, and for the 2012 NCAA Tournament the Wildcats are headed back to where the 2011 magic began. K-State will take on the Northern Iowa Panthers in the first round Thursday afternoon from Lincoln, Neb., and historic NU Coliseum at 4:30 p.m.  

The Wildcats are making their 14th NCAA Tournament appearance after going 21-8 in the regular season to earn an at-large bid. Head Coach Suzie Fritz has led the program to nine tournaments now in her 12 seasons at the helm and has her team ready for another push.

Northern Iowa is a perennial power in the Missouri Valley Conference, as the Panthers are making their 18th NCAA Tournament appearance and seventh straight. This is the first time K-State and UNI will have met in the NCAA Tournament and the first meeting since 2008 when the Panthers played in the Varney’s Invitational with the Wildcats winning that contest.

Fans are encouraged to purchase tickets through the K-State Ticket Office from the allotment given to the department. Tickets can be purchased online at kstatesports.com/tickets or by calling 1-800-221-CATS. Fans may also go through the Nebraska Ticket Office by calling 800-8-BIGRED. All-session tickets are available for $34 in reserved seating and include all three matches at the site.

Other teams in the Lincoln subregional are host Nebraska (23-6) as the Huskers are the No. 4 overall seed in the tournament. Nebraska will take on Maryland-Eastern Shore (28-5) from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Hawks won their conference for the second season in a row and posted the most wins in school history in this year’s campaign. Nebraska and UMES will face at 7:30 p.m. Thursday with the winner of both matches playing Friday. Of the two potential second opponents, K-State has never faced UMES and is 4-80 against Nebraska after upsetting the Cornhuskers on their home floor to advance to the Regional Semifinals last season.

On the Airwaves
Thursday’s match can be heard on 1350 KMAN with Rob Voelker calling the action. Pregame coverage will begin at 4 p.m.

The match will be broadcast online at ncaa.com. Every match during the first two rounds of the tournament will be available for free at ncaa.com for fans to watch.

Live stats for Saturday’s match can be found at huskers.com. A link will be posted to kstatesports.com when it is available as well.

The Series
Northern Iowa: K-State leads the all-time series 6-3-1 and has won all four meetings with Suzie Fritz leading the Wildcats. This is the first NCAA Tournament meeting between the Panthers and Wildcats.

UMES: K-State and Maryland-Eastern Shore have never played each other.

Nebraska: K-State trails Nebraska 4-80 all-time in the series but pulled the upset last year in the NCAA Tournament to go to the Sweet 16 and end the Cornhuskers’ season.

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 nine NCAA Tournaments, including three runs to the Regional Semifinals.

Northern Iowa: Bobbi Petersen (UNI ‘90) is in her 13th year coaching her alma mater. She has helped make the Panthers a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament with 10 appearances, including seven straight. UNI has won three of the last four Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles.

UMES: Don Metil (California University of Pennsylvania ‘96) is in his sixth season leading the Hawks where he has taken the team to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments and posted the most wins in school history both years as well.

Nebraska: Jon Cook (San Diego ‘79) is in his 13th year with the Huskers and he has kept the program among the top in the nation winning two NCAA titles and reaching five NCAA semifinals.

Goodbye to Historic NU Coliseum
NU Coliseum has long been considered by volleyball fans to be one of the greatest venues in the sport, and the final matches in the long history of NU Coliseum will be played this week in the NCAA Tournament. With their appearance there this week, the K-State Wildcats will get to play at least one more match in the storied gym. The Cornhuskers will be moving to a reconfigured Devaney Center next season with Nebraska’s men’s and women’s basketball teams moving to the new Pinnacle Bank Arena in downtown Lincoln.

The Cornhuskers own two of the top five longest home winning streaks in NCAA history at the coliseum, including the No. 2 streak of 90 wins from 2004-09. Only five teams have defeated the Cornhuskers more than once in the coliseum, K-State is one of only two teams to do so three times joining Texas.

Those three wins by the Wildcats are among the biggest in school history, and in the long rivalry dating back to the old Big Eight Conference days all the way to the Big 12, the Wildcats and Cornhuskers have had countless battles on the court at NU Coliseum in front of a packed house.

Nebraska fans have packed the rafters of NU Coliseum beyond the official capacity of 4,030 for years and now will have a 6000-seat arena at Devaney. Entering this season, Nebraska held a record of 164 straight sellouts.

Scouting the Panthers
Northern Iowa is led by senior outside hitter Megan Lehman with an average of 3.19 kills per set and she received first team honors on the All-Missouri Valley Conference team. Three other Panthers were recognized as All-MVC, including senior middle blocker Krista DeGeest and junior outside hitter Macy Ubben on the first team. Ubben is UNI’s all-around player with 2.48 kills and 2.34 digs. DeGeest averages 2.75 kills and hit and efficient .310 on the year. Senior outside hitter Amy Braun was named to the second team and ranks third on the team in kills and second in digs at 3.81 to give UNI another all-around player on the outside.

Defensively, UNI digs 17.79 balls per set to rank 23rd in the NCAA this season. Libero Candice Burke leads the team with 5.09 per set herself and ranks 54th individually. She is not alone in keeping rallies alive with four other teammates posting at least 2.20 digs per set. Braun, Ubben, Molly Turk (2.72) and Jenny Wilms (2.20) all help the Panthers limit their opponents with strong defense.

UNI is not all defense, however. The Panthers rank fourth in the NCAA in kills per set at 14.74. That offensive production is spread around the team similar to the digs defensively. Five players are averaging at least 2.30 kills. The offense is guided by Turk as she ranks 11th in assists per set and has her team hitting .240 on the year.

Scouting the Cornhuskers
Nebraska is again among the top teams in the country ranked No. 10 in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll and receiving the No. 4 seed in the tournament from the selection committee. The Huskers have a senior class of four, and three of them are All-Americans: setter Lauren Cook and outside hitters Hannah Werth and Gina Mancuso.

Mancuso averages 3.43 kills with Werth posting 3.06. The pair also is active on the defensive end as Werth actually leads the team in digs from the outside hitter position, an extremely rare feat in the libero era. Mancuso is fourth in digs on the team and is the team’s top server. Cook is third in digs and directs the team to a hitting percentage of .290 as the setter to rank 10th in the nation.

The Huskers rely heavily on Mancuso and Werth on the outside for their offense. Right side hitter Morgan Broekhuis is third on the team with 2.70 kills. Both of Nebraska’s middle blockers average less than 2.00 kills per set as the Huskers the trio of Mancuso, Werth and Broekhuis takes 66 percent of the swings.

Nebraska is one of the top blocking teams in the nation as well thanks to a strong presence at the net from middles Hayley Thramer and Meghan Haggerty. Thramer, a junior, is averaging 1.20 blocks per set and Haggerty is stuffing 1.00 as a freshman.

Scouting the Hawks
Maryland-Eastern Shore won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for the second straight year to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament. This year the Hawks posted the most wins in school history with a 28-5 record.

The Hawks are one of the top serving teams in the nation ranking second in aces. That is in part due to sophomore outside hitter Saitaua Iosia, who was the preseason conference player of the year. Iosia is second in the nation in aces as an individual with an average of 0.71 per set. She also is the most complete player on the team racking up 4.32 kills per set on an impressive .286 hitting percentage for an outside hitter. Defensively, Iosia adds 2.52 digs per set to lead the team.

Three other players average at least 2.00 kills per set for the Hawks. Middle blocker Ndidi Ibe is UMES’s No. 2 threat with a hitting percentage of .319 and 2.28 kills. Outside hitter Maline Vaitai (2.77) and right side Victoria Williams (2.31) are the other main threats on offense for the Hawks. The Hawks are an efficient offense hitting .260 as a team to rank in the top 25 in the nation as well.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
The Wildcats closed the season at 8-8 in Big 12 Conference play to finish in fifth place after a loss to Oklahoma in the final match. K-State is looking to get back on the winning track in the NCAA Tournament after dropping three in a row to end the regular season.

K-State is coming off a 1-3 to Oklahoma on Senior Night. The Wildcats’ defense was strong at the net, posting a season-high 17 blocks against the Sooners. Senior middle blocker Alex Muff had one of her best matches in her last match at Ahearn Field House as she marked her first career double-double with 11 kills and 10 blocks. Sophomore middle blocker Taylor Johnson also shined with a career-high eight kills backed up with seven blocks, one shy of her career best defensively.

This is K-State’s 14th NCA Tournament appearance and ninth under head coach Suzie Fritz in her 12 years leading the program. The Wildcats are 14-13 all-time in the tournament and have advanced to the Regional Semifinals three times, including last season. Thursday’s match will be the first time K-State and UNI have faced each other in the NCAA Tournament and 11th overall.

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 48th in hitting percentage the Wildcats are 38th in the NCAA in assists per set in the NCAA’s latest statistics report on Monday averaging 13.15. Thanks in part to senior setter Caitlyn Donahue’s direction the Wildcats are also killing at a rate of 13.85 per set to rank just outside the top 50.

K-State is posting those strong numbers thanks to a number of individuals having great seasons for the team. Donahue ranks eighth in the NCAA in assists (11.73). 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 and with her all-around game Kaitlynn Pelger is 66th in points.

Three Wildcats Named All-Big 12
With the K-State volleyball finishing the regular season 21-8 overall and 8-8 in conference play, three Wildcats were recognized on Monday for their efforts on the court by being named to the All-Big 12 Conference Team. Senior setter Caitlyn Donahue and junior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger were voted to the first team by the league’s coaches and senior middle blocker Alex Muff was named honorable mention.

Donahue ranked second in the Big 12 this season in assists per set at 11.73 overall and 11.79 in league play. In conference matches she trailed Iowa State’s Allison Landwehr by just .14 per set with Landwehr earning the first-ever Big 12 Setter of the Year honor. Donahue posted nine double-doubles during the season as she also averaged 2.44 digs per set in Big 12 play.

This is Donahue’s first All-Big 12 award and is the first setter to be named to the team since Stacey Spiegelberg earned honorable mention in 2007.She is the first setter to make the first team since Gabby Guerre in 2003 when K-State won the Big 12.

Pelger earned All-Big 12 first team honors for the second straight year and was a unanimous selection by the coaches. All season Pelger ranked near the top of the league in kills per set and finished third behind only Haley Eckerman and Bailey Webster of Texas. Eckerman was named Big 12 Player of the Year.

In conference matches this year, Pelger ranked third in kills and points and for much of the season was one of only two players to rank in the top 10 hitting percentage and blocks as well. She is the first Wildcat to earn back-to-back first team status since Nataly Korobkova did so in 2007 and 2008.

Muff receives her first All-Big 12 honor in her final year at K-State. She was among the best blockers in the league again as she finished with an average of 1.32 per set in league action to rank second behind Khat Bell of Texas. Muff also ranked ninth in hitting percentage with a clip of .312. Muff ranks 22nd in the nation in blocks overall with a 1.41 average. She closed the regular season with her first career double-double against Oklahoma with 11 kills and 10 blocks on Saturday.

With Muff and Pelger both being named All-Big 12 it marks the first time since 2003 the Wildcats have had two middle blockers on the list. Lauren Goehring was named first team and player of the year in 2003 and Lisa Martin earn honorable mention.

Double Grand
Senior setter Caitlyn Donahue has joined an exclusive club this season for the Wildcats. She is just one of only two players in school history to post 3,000 assists and 1,000 digs. Donahue currently ranks in the top 10 in school history in both categories along with All-American Gabby Guerre.

Guerre helped lead the Wildcats to the 2003 Big 12 Championship and posted 4,943 assists to rank second in school history. Her 1,013 digs place her11th. Donahue moved her way up the digs list this season and currently has 1,099 to stand ninth. Donahue’s 3,593 assists put her fifth.

Five other players in school history are in the double grand club but with 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 averaged 2.44 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 hit .312 to lead the team in that category and rank ninth in the conference.

Muff has posted10 or more kills in nine of the last 12 matches and hit .323 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. In the second match against Texas, Muff hit .455 with 11 kills.

During her hot streak, Muff has hit .300 or better in seven of those matches, including clips of .593 against Texas Tech and .556 against KU. In that match against Texas Tech five weeks ago, Muff posted a new career-high 17 kills in the victory. Her .593 hitting percentage also ranks fourth in school history for a five-set match.  

Defensively over the last 12 matches, Muff has averaged 1.34 blocks, after stuffing 10 attacks against Oklahoma to close the season Saturday. With 11 kills in that match, Muff also posted her first career double-double.

For her career, Muff ranks fourth in school history in block assists with 416. She needs nine more to tie her own mark of 135 for 10th in a single season.

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 3.69 kills per set and has increased her defensive production on the back row to average 2.79 digs this year. The junior has tallied nine double-doubles on the year with eight of them coming by way of kills and digs.