Wildcats Head to Hawaii for Round of 16

Kuulei Kabalis

Dec. 7, 2011

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HONOLULU, Hawaii – The Kansas State volleyball made its return to the NCAA Tournament this season after a two-year hiatus, and the Wildcats have responded by advancing to their third Regional Semifinal. The Wildcats will take on the No. 15-seeded Pepperdine Waves in the Round of 16 in Hawaii on Friday after K-State pulled off the upset over No. 2 Nebraska on the road in the second round. First serve is set for 5 p.m. Hawaii time and 9 p.m. Central. The other matchup will be between No. 7-seed Southern Cal and No. 10-seed Hawaii with the winners facing off Saturday for a shot at the NCAA Semifinals in San Antonio, Texas.

It will be homecoming for junior libero Kuulei Kabalis as she returns home for the Hawaii Regional. Kabalis is the first player from K-State to hail from the island state.

This is the 13th NCAA Tournament appearance for the Wildcats and the eighth in the 11 years head coach Suzie Fritz has led the program. K-State is now 14-12 all-time in the tournament. Fritz is 9-7 in her eight tournament appearances and has advanced out of the first round each year but 2008 against Santa Clara.

All four teams in the regional are traditional powers as Pepperdine is making its 21st NCAA Tournament appearance and has reached its seventh Regional Semifinal. USC has won six national championships and reached the Regional Semifinals 20 times now. Hawaii has won more matches than any other program and won three NCAA crowns. This is the 24th Regional Semifinal for the Rainbow Wahine.

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 Hawaii Ticket Office by calling 808-956-4482. All-session tickets are available for $35 in lower level of the Stan Sheriff Center or $25 for the upper level. Single-session tickets may be purchased beginning on the day of the first match for $20 or $15.

On the Airwaves
Friday’s match will be broadcast on 1350 KMAN with Rob Voelker calling the action. The match will also be available on the station’s website and free online at kstatesports.com. Pregame starts at 8:30 p.m. CST. If K-State advances to Saturday’s Regional Final, that match will be at 11 p.m. CST with pregame starting 30 minutes prior to the first serve.

Online
Live stats provided by CBSsports.com and may be found on hawaiiathletics.com. Free live audio of KMAN’s call will also be available at kstatesports.com. The match can also be seen on espn3.com.

The Series
K-State vs. Pepperdine: The Wildcats have split with the Waves in the two previous meetings between the two teams. Both of those meetings have come in the postseason with K-State winning in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2000 and Pepperdine winning in the 1995 NIVC.

K-State vs. Hawaii: The Wildcats have lost all five matches against the Rainbow Wahine. All five of those matches were during nonconference tournaments hosted by Hawaii early in the season.

K-State vs. Southern Cal: The Women of Troy have beaten the Wildcats in both their only two meetings. One win came in the second round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament. The other came in 1977.

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 earlier in the season was her 200th. She is the winningest coach in K-State history and her career record of 217-126 gives her a winning percentage of .633.

Pepperdine: Nina Matthies (UCLA ‘75) has been coaching the Waves for 29 seasons and has the program among the most successful on the West Coast. She has won 11 West Coast Conference titles and been to 19 NCAA Tournaments with Pepperdine.

Hawaii: Dave Shoji (UC Santa Barbara ‘69) is in his 37th year leading the Rainbow Wahine where he has taken the team to 30 straight NCAA Tournaments. He has built the program into one of the most successful in the nation and won four national championships - three NCAA, one AIAW.

Southern Cal: Mick Haley (Ball State ‘65) is in his 11th year leading USC where he has led the Women of Troy to back-to-back national titles and five Final Four appearances. He also saw success at Texas.

Scouting the Waves
The Waves won their 11th West Coast Conference title under coach Nina Matthies this season and defeated North Carolina in the second round to advance to the Regional Semifinals. The Tarheels were riding momentum into the second round after upsetting No. 10-ranked Cal in the first round.

Pepperdine has not played much on a neutral court this season as the Waves are 2-1 in such matches. The Waves have played a number of ranked opponents this season with a total of nine matches. Pepperdine had a challenging nonconference schedule facing Texas, UCLA, Dayton, Michigan and Florida State, plus Hawaii twice. Then, the Waves played conference foe San Diego twice when the Toreros were ranked.

The Waves hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament as the No. 15 seed overall in the bracket. They bested Missouri State in three sets to open the championship, a similar opponent with K-State as the Wildcats defeated the Bears 3-2 on their home floor. Other common opponents Pepperdine has faced are Texas (1-3 loss), Saint Mary’s (3-2 win, 0-3 loss) and BYU (3-1 win twice).

Pepperdine is led by Kim Hill as she is averaging 3.89 kills per set. She averaged 3.83 in the first two rounds of the tournament. Lilla Frederick also averages more than 3.00 kills a set on the year and she posted 11 kills against Missouri State and six against UNC.

The Waves combined to hit over .300 in both matches and nearly reached .400 in the sweep over UNC. Entering the tournament Pepperdine was ranked 14th in kills as a team and the Waves’ hitting percentage was 34th to make them one of the top offenses in the country. Pepperdine also is one of the top blocking teams led by Samantha Cash with 1.21 per set.

Scouting the Rainbow Wahine
The Rainbow Wahine are a bit familiar to the Wildcats as K-State opened the 2010 season at one of their home tournaments. Hawaii is an impressive 31-1 on the year and has lost only 19 sets all year.

Senior outside hitter Kanani Danielson is a three-time All-American and three-time WAC Player of the Year as she is averaging 4.13 kills per set this season. Danielson also leads the team in digs, a rarity for an outside hitter in volleyball these days with the libero position in play, as she is posting 3.05.  Jane Croson gives Hawaii another offensive weapon pounding 3.52 kills to go with 2.90 digs.

Hawaii is strong at the net defensively with 2.66 blocks to rank among the top 25 in the nation. Middle blocker Brittany Hewitt played well against K-State last year and she is stuffing 1.32 attacks per set. She is in the top 25 as well individually in that category. She adds 1.93 kills on a .328 percentage. Fellow middle Emily Hartong leads the offense with a hitting percentage of .378 and adds 2.24 kills to make the pair of middles a threat. The Wahine’s team hitting percentage of .295 is in the top five in NCAA Division I.

The Rainbow Wahine swept Northern Colorado in the first round of the tournament hitting .318 for the night. Danielson tallied 16 kills. In the second round, Hawaii bested Colorado State in four sets with Danielson posting a 20-20 double-double notching 22 kills and 20 digs. Croson also had 20 digs to go with 11 kills. Hawaii was slowed to a team hitting percentage of .192 in the win.

Scouting the Women of Troy
Southern Cal entered the NCAA Tournament at the No. 1 team in the nation according to the AVCA Top 25 Coaches Poll, but the Women of Troy are the No. 7 seed in the bracket. That draw gave USC a matchup with Yale in the first round and a second round against Tulsa.

Against Yale, USC did not allow the Bulldogs to reach 20 points in a set and held them to just 13 in the first two. The Women of Troy hit .350 for the match and limited Yale to just .100. In the second round, Tulsa hit negative in the first set and recovered slightly but could not overcome the power of USC. Four players reached double digits in kills in the match and the team hit .372.

USC is led by Alex Jupiter with 4.32 kills per set and a .272 hitting percentage. The senior outside hitter is a two-time All-American and is averaging 2.93 digs per set to rank second on the team behind only libero Natalie Hagglund’s impressive 5.03. Jupiter struggled against Yale with four kills and three errors but responded with 10 kills and a .333 percentage against Tulsa.

The team has four players averaging at least 2.00 kills per set on the year. Katie Fuller (2.85), Lauren Williams (2.71) and Sara Shaw (2.18). In the tournament that number grows to five players averaging 2-plus kills as Alexis Olgard has come on strong with 22 kills through the first two rounds and no errors for a percentage of .688 to lead the team. USC has gone to its middle blockers often through the first two rounds with Olgard and Williams leading the team in kills.

Catching Up with the ‘Cats
The Wildcats have advanced to their third Regional Semifinal after besting Wichita State in the first round and former Big 12 rival Nebraska. K-State’s victory over No. 2-ranked and seeded Nebraska marks the highest ranked team in school history the Wildcats have beaten.

In the upset over No. 2 Nebraska, K-State tallied its eighth win in five sets this season. The Wildcats are 8-1 in five-set matches this year with the lone loss coming at Baylor. K-State grabbed the momentum early in the fifth set and never trailed in the final stanza stopping the Huskers’ run of 17 straight appearances in the Round of 16 and handing them their first home loss of the season. K-State is now 4-80 all-time against Nebraska, but three of those victories are in Lincoln. The Wildcats are the only team to win more than once on Nebraska’s home floor.

With the win over Nebraska, K-State now has five victories over teams ranked in the Top 10 in the program’s history. The win also gave the Wildcats their first road victory over a ranked opponent since defeating then-No. 10 Nebraska on Nov. 11, 2003. That win also was the last time K-State defeated an opponent ranked in the Top 10, ending an eight-year drought on Top 10 victories.

The tandem of Kaitlynn Pelger and Caitlyn Donahue helped lead the Wildcats to the wins over Wichita State and Nebraska. Pelger posted double-doubles in each win and reached the 20-kill mark in the victory over Nebraska. Donahue had her15th double-double of the season against Nebraska.

Four Wildcats reached double digits in kills against Nebraska with Lilla Porubek adding 17 to go with Pelger’s 22. Alex Muff was solid with 12 kills and seven blocks, and Courtney Traxson had a career-high 14. Defensively, K-State was able to slow Nebraska with 81 digs and five Wildcats in double figures. The Huskers hit .262 for the match and struggled at the service line with 11 errors while K-State had four aces and applied pressure to keep Nebraska out of system throughout the match.

Heading Home to Hawaii
Junior college transfer Kuulei Kabalis is the first player in Kansas State history to hail from Hawai’i, and now she has the opportunity to take her teammates home with her. With K-State advancing to the Regional Semifinal in Honolulu, Kabalis and the Wildcats will be returning to her home state, where she is sure to receive a warm welcome like many other Hawaiian players who have come home with their respective teams to play.

Kabalis earned the starting libero spot for the Wildcats during training camp and is averaging 3.75 digs per set. Her 461 digs this season 10th in school history for a season and she will have the opportunity to move ahead of some of the seasons posted by career digs leader Angie Lastra. Kabalis tallied 30 digs in a loss at Baylor for her career-high. Overall, she has cracked the 20-dig mark in a match five times with four of them coming in conference play where she is averaged 4.05 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 third on the team in aces after posting three against Oklahoma. Kabalis also is the first player in the program’s history from Hawai’i.