Wildcats Ready for Utes in NCAA Tournament

"We're just going to keep it simple," she explained.  
Her young team is coming off of one of its most successful seasons in school history. The Wildcats' 22 regular season wins this year are the most since the 2008 season, while their 13-4 record away from Ahearn Field House is a program-best so far.
"Your kids have to believe they can win and you've got to be playing well at the right time," Fritz continued about how to do well in the NCAA Tournament. "There's no special formula that you can pour on them. You try to get them as prepared as you can and you try to treat it like any other match. You try to keep the preparation the same and you instill in them that they need to trust in their preparation."
The team's preparation is what got it to this point, and it's what will carry the Wildcats through the program's 15th NCAA Tournament appearance, including the 10th under Fritz.
"When we talk about who we are, we're very resilient," said Wildcat sophomore Sheridan Zarda. "We are hard workers, we're a blue collar team, we never give up and we're a team that handles the little things both on and off the court. Just every little thing that we can handle, we want to control, and that's something that we have progressed in throughout the season."
While becoming one of 64 teams to make the NCAA Tournament is always the team's goal at the beginning of the season, with its roster full of youth, the team's success in 2014 came as a surprise to many.
The Wildcat roster features four seniors and just one junior while the rest - nine freshmen and five sophomores - are underclassmen. 
"After last year, I was nervous knowing that we were going to have so many younger girls this year," said senior Chelsea Keating, "and in the spring I was nervous with how this year would turn out. But it's been nothing but great, and that's exciting."
Keating was a member of both the 2011 and 2012 K-State volleyball teams that competed in the NCAA Tournament - both hosted in Lincoln, Nebraska - but she also knows the sting of not making it in the tournament as, in 2013 after going 18-11 (6-10 Big 12), the Wildcats stayed home.
"This is my third time playing in Lincoln, and having that experience under my belt and being calm going into it, I can have a level head and help radiate that through the team," said Keating. "But it's exciting, there are only a few teams who are still playing right now, so it's a privilege."
Today's match takes place at the Devaney Center, with the first serve set for 4:30 p.m. 
No. 20 Utah (19-12, 9-11 Pac-12) is coming off of a season in one of the nation's toughest conferences. The Pac-12 had 10 teams make it into this year's tournament--the most of any conference--including the No. 1-seed Stanford - Utah's only loss in its last eight matches.
"They're a good team," said Zarda. "We've heard about their conference and how they've been playing recently. They've done very, very well and they've succeeded against big teams, so we know we have to play our game and focus on us."
Added Fritz about the Utes, "This is a team who is going to start five or six seniors and who aren't going to hurt themselves very often. They have good offensive balance; everybody's involved. They're not going to make a lot of errors. They're going to play just good over time. So, to play with them, you have to play the same."
K-State is 11-3 all-time in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and 2-1 in Lincoln during the postseason. In 2012 - the last time the Wildcats played in the NCAA Tournament - the team fell in the opening round to Northern Iowa. However, three years ago in 2011, the Wildcats went 2-0 in Lincoln with an upset win over then No. 2 and host Nebraska in the tournament's second round. 
The winner between K-State and Utah would face the advancing team between Nebraska and Hofstra on Saturday at 7 p.m.
"We've talked about how big this game is going to be," said Big 12 Freshman of the Year Kylee Zumach. "It's kind of like do or die, so we're going into it giving it all we've got because this could be the last game of the year together. There's always that thought that we might be done, but I think that just motivates us more to keep going. We want to get as far as we can."
Looking at this tournament, this opportunity, as a new beginning--what has happened in the past is the past--and tonight, K-State is ready to get back in action.
"It's really good, a fresh start is always nice," said Zarda. "It's rejuvenating and it kind of gives you new life. With that, we're just super pumped to play one more game, at least. We're going to take it one game at a time and having a new season start, brings smiles to our faces and hunger to our stomachs."

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