Dec. 9, 2011
By Mark Janssen
K-State Sports Extra
If there's a conversation about best of the best when it comes to Kansas State volleyball, the name of Kaitlynn Pelger will surface early in the conversation.
Oh, there might have been better terminators, or more adept blockers, or better defenders, but package that total volleyball player and that's when the Pelger name will quickly be mentioned.
"What sets Kaitlynn apart is her ability to play in six rotations," said K-State coach Suzie Fritz. "She's not only attacking, but her defense has significantly improved. She's passing and digging at a high level. We've asked her to do a lot, and she's handled all the responsibilities."
Handled them to the degree in her sophomore season that Fritz adds, "The last one we had with the ability to do so many things was Lauren Goering, and she was a senior. With the numbers Kaitlynn is putting up, it's not too early to compare the two."
Tonight at 9 (central time), Pelger and the Wildcats (22-10) will take to the floor against No. 18 Pepperdine in the Sweet 16 Round of the NCAA Tournament in Honolulu, Hawai'i, on espn3.com. With a win, K-State would play in the Elite Eight round on Saturday at 7 on ESPNU against tonight's winner between No. 3 Hawai'i and No. 1 USC.
Entering the match, the All-Big 12 and AVCA All-Region first team selection ranks seventh in school history for a single season with 490 kills, which includes 11 20-kill matches, which ranks second only to Dawn Cady's 14 (1999) for a single season.
She also has 326 digs making her only the 13th Wildcat to ever score a double-300 in kills and digs, and the first to play the middle blocker position. This season, Pelger has had 13 double-doubles in kills and digs, and one in kills and blocks.
The 6-foot-2 product of Olathe South High School ranks 39th nationally in kills per set and 16th in points. Against Tennessee Tech, she hit .800, which ranks fourth in school history for a three-set match. Oh, and her 32 kills against Drake ranks fifth in school history for a five-set match, and her six solo blocks against Missouri State is tied for second in school history for a five-set match.
"Kaitlynn's not only playing to All-Big 12 standards, but she's having an All-American performance based on what we're asking her to do," said Fritz. "She's had very few bad matches. She's just had an enormous season."
On being labeled as one of the best in K-State history and being listed on the all-time charts, Pelger said, "That's great. It's so awesome to hear those things because I know the history of this program. But I just want our team to do well. That's what motivates me to do well. The statistics don't mean that much except to understand they helped the team win, but I always want to do better in the next game."
When it comes to statistics, Pelger mentions other areas than her blocking specialty as the most meaningful.
"I really struggled early with my passing in the beginning, so that's where I've made the biggest improvement," said Pelger. "I'm growing in positions I've never played before, so that's the most rewarding."
Pelger accomplished a bundle last year when she was named to the league's All-Freshman team after posting per set averages of 2.9 kills, hitting .254, 0.88 blocks, 1.19 digs and 3.68 points. This year she has averaged 4.15 kills, hit .309, plus averaged 1.01 blocks, 2.76 digs and 5.03 points.
"She is very intense and very passionate," said K-State teammate Kathleen Ludwig. "She's one of the best ever, and she's only a sophomore."
"Asking her to play six rotations is huge," said K-State assistant Jeff Grove. "We've asked her to step forward every night in crunch time and she's done it."
That was never more evident than at Nebraska last week in defeating the No. 2 ranked Cornhuskers to advance to tonight's Sweet 16 when she had 22 kills, 12 digs and hit .314 in the five-match victory.
"I think throughout the whole match we stayed relaxed and stayed composed," Pelger said of the most historic win in K-State history. "Going into the fifth set we were still 100-percent confident. I'm so proud of all of us. Nebraska is so great. Their team is one of the top teams in the nation, and it feels so great to get a win like this."
The play of Pelger has come as no surprise to Fritz: "We had a high expectation because we knew early on what she was capable of being. She had to become a more focused and disciplined player and person, and I've been very impressed with her increased maturity. She has become totally committed to the program to realize her potential."
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