Aug. 8, 2012
MANHATTAN, Kan. – K-State volleyball reported for duty on Tuesday and held its first practice Wednesday morning, marking the official start of the 2012 season. The Wildcats went through various administrative procedures and met for a team dinner before taking to the court in Ahearn Field House to begin preparation for the campaign.
After reaching the NCAA Regional Semifinals last season, the Wildcats return every starter from a year and lost just one player from the roster, while welcoming two new Wildcats into the mix. K-State Head Coach Suzie Fritz said she and her staff are excited in their own way to get two-a-days started and getting to work on the court.
“It’s different for me. It’s not an excitement. I was ready. We were all ready. We were ready to get them back in the gym,” Fritz said. “We knew when we came in that they worked really hard over the summer. Working hard is not an issue with this group. We are continuing to talk to them about things they have to do to go to the next level to improve and tighten the bolts. That’s kind of why we’re here. We’re here to tighten the bolts and it’s not about working hard it’s about working smarter and working at a higher quality so I was excited to get back in here and get to work.”
With the momentum from last year’s deep run in the NCA Tournament, the Wildcats are hoping for a return visit to the postseason and making 2012 another year to remember for the Wildcat faithful.
Fifth-year senior and co-captain Kathleen Ludwig said the team chemistry is unique to this bunch of Wildcats and she is excited to get back on the floor and play her final season in Purple and White.
“I always say this is such a special group and it really is. We are so close. Our friendship off the court is huge. I think it’s a huge asset for us and something that’s intangible,” Ludwig said. “I’m excited just to compete. This is my last year. I’m just looking to enjoy every single minute of it and get to be the best team and best player I can be. I’m ready to work hard. I know our team is, too, and I know we can do really big things. I’m just ready to win.”
The Wildcats will open the season by hosting the Varney’s Invitational on August 24-25. It marks the first time since 2004 that K-State starts the season off at home in Ahearn Field House. The tournament will bring UC Irvine, Oakland and Oregon State to the Purple Pit where the Wildcats went 10-3 in home contests a year ago.
K-State’s home schedule will also include a nonconference match against 2011 NCAA Tournament team Missouri State on September 5. With the double round robin format in the Big 12 Conference, four league opponents who played in the NCAA Tournament will also come to Manhattan.
The Wildcats will play host to Iowa State and Texas in the same week marking an exciting portion of the schedule in back-to-back matches. The Cyclones and Longhorns both reached the Regional Finals with Texas losing to eventual NCAA champion UCLA. The loss to the Bruins ended a streak of three straight Final Four appearances by Texas.
Baylor also made the NCAA Tournament last year and will come to Manhattan on October 27 for Homecoming and a Wildcat Weekend. The Baylor match will also be Pack the House Night with $1 general admission tickets.
As mentioned earlier the 2012 roster welcomes back all seven starters from last season, including Preseason All-Big 12 selections Kaitlynn Pelger, Lilla Porubek and Caitlyn Donahue. Pelger led the Wildcats in kills with 500 and was named honorable mention All-America by AVCA. Porubek was second on the team in kills and ranked sixth in the Big 12 during conference play and earned All-Big 12 Honorable Mention. Donahue ranked second in the league last year in conference matches in assists per set and posted 16 double-doubles. Her double-doubles rank sixth in school history for a single season.
After not having any seniors on the team last season, the Wildcats are loaded with experience in 2012 with four seniors, three of whom have started for three years. Captains Kathleen Ludwig and Alex Muff are prepared to lead the team again this year. Ludwig has a shot at cracking the 1,000 kill mark during her final season as a Wildcat and Muff already ranks among the top 10 blockers in school history.
In addition to her double-doubles last year, Donahue posted the first triple-double by a Wildcat since 2004 when she posted 10 kills, 48 assists and 16 digs in a five-set win over Missouri at home.
Libero Kuulei Kabalis made an immediate impact for the Wildcats last season after transferring from Western Nebraska. The native Hawaiian averaged 3.79 digs per set and posted 478 digs to rank ninth for a single season in school history.
A total of 13 letterwinners are back for the Wildcats. In addition to Donahue, Kabalis, Ludwig, Muff, Pelger and Porubek, juniors Dakota Kaufman, Tristan McCarty and Courtney Traxson have significant starting experience. Traxson moved into the starting lineup midway through the 2011 campaign and played a major role during the NCAA Tournament. McCarty holds a significant position as a back row defensive specialist and starts depending on K-State’s opening rotation, and Kaufman has played a big role starting on the outside for a spell.
Sophomores Taylor Johnson, Chelsea Keating and Gina Madonia are back for the 2012 season after contributing to the team’s success along with junior outside hitter Courtney Cook. After redshirting last year, middle blocker Natali Jones is ready for action with the Wildcats and two newcomers to the roster include freshman setter Katie Brand from Nebraska and senior walk-on Ali Boehler.
K-State’s only player not returning from last year is backup setter Ashley Kelican. Kelican graduated a year early and is now enrolled in K-State’s veterinary school. She started two matches last season when Donahue was injured and led the Wildcats to a road win over Texas Tech.
The internal expectations of reaching the postseason and being a force within the Big 12 Conference are the same as every year for Fritz and her Wildcats. This season, however, with so many returners she speaks openly of raising the bar from a performance perspective and focusing energy on getting better in certain areas of the game that will enable her Wildcats to shine in 2012.
“Our expectations are so much different. Going deep in the NCAA Tournament and competing for a Big 12 championship are really very general, core expectations for success, and if you do those things, I think you’ve had a successful season,” Fritz said. “Our expectations are more like hit over .200 in transition; and if you do that you have a chance to win. Sideout at 60-something percent; and if you do that, we have a chance to win. We have really specific objectives of what we’re trying to accomplish, and maybe those objectives are so much higher in that we want to continue to improve in x, y and z.”
To prepare for the season the Wildcats have two weeks of practice leading up to the Varney’s Invitational. K-State will play its annual Purple/White Scrimmage on Aug. 18 at 7 p.m. in Ahearn Field House. Media Day will be held prior to the scrimmage with the Wildcats opening their serve and pass practice to media members from 2:15-3 p.m. with interviews to follow from 3-3:30 p.m.
Season tickets are still on sale for fans wanting to catch all the action in Ahearn this year as well as individual match tickets. For more information please visit kstatesports.com or call 1-888-221-CATS (2287).