MANHATTAN, Kan. – The K-State volleyball team hits the road this week looking to hand the No. 7 Texas Longhorns their first defeat in Big 12 Conference play when the two teams meet at 7 p.m. Friday from Gregory Gymnasium on the Longhorn Network. The Wildcats stand in a tie for third place with Iowa State and are one game behind Kansas for second. Texas was the heavy favorite to win the Big 12 this year and has dropped only one match at home this season to then-ranked No. 14 Minnesota, a team the Wildcats beat 3-2 on a neutral court earlier this year.
Besting the Longhorns on their home floor will be a tough task as Texas brings one of the most efficient offenses in the nation to the court. The Wildcats were the first team to take a set off the Longhorns at Gregory Gymnasium last season in conference play by jumping to a 1-0 lead. Texas has dropped three sets at home in conference play so far, including a 3-2 win over No. 22 Iowa State that saw the Longhorns have to climb back from a 0-2 deficit.
During the first match in the series this season, the Wildcats had a chance to tie the match up at 1-1 with a 24-21 lead in the second set. A few mistakes and service errors cost K-State the opportunity and the Longhorns eventually won an extended and dramatic contest 30-28 to take a 2-0 lead before winning the third as well.
The Wildcats enter the match on a three-match winning streak after defeating Texas Tech, West Virginia and Baylor. K-State posted its 20th win on the season on Saturday against Baylor to help solidify an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament with that being the target number similar to basketball. A win over Texas would be the first for the Wildcats since 2003 and the fourth over a ranked opponent this season.
On the Tube
The Longhorn Network will broadcast the match on Friday with Brenda VanLengen calling play by play and Holly McPeak providing color commentary. LHN is currently available on AT&T U-Verse and Verizon Fios.
On the Airwaves
Friday’s match can be heard on 1350 KMAN with Rob Voelker calling the action.
Friday’s match can be heard online at kstatesports.com with Rob Voelker’s call of the action. Live stats will be available at kstatesports.com and texassports.com provided by CBS GameTracker.
The broadcast from the Longhorn Network is also available online for subscribers at longhornnetwork.com.
Texas leads the all-time series 28-7 after winning the first meeting in Manhattan earlier in October. The Longhorns have won 18 straight against the Wildcats with K-State’s last victory coming in Manhattan during the 2003 Big 12 Championship run by the Wildcats.
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 236 wins and has taken the team to eight NCAA Tournaments, including three runs to the Regional Semifinals.
Texas: Jerritt Elliott (Cal State Northridge ‘91) has turned the Longhorns into a national title contender in his 11 years leading the program. Now in his 12th year at Texas, Elliot has taken his team to the Final Four three of the last four years.
Scouting the Longhorns
Texas is one of the top teams in the nation again in 2012 and currently is undefeated in Big 12 Conference play. The Longhorns have one of the best outside hitter combinations in Haley Eckerman and Bailey Webster as the two combine to provide nearly 60 percent of UT’s kills.
Eckerman leads the Big 12 in kills overall at 4.60 per set and is posting 4.64 in conference action. She ranks 10th in the nation in kills and is coming off a double-double against TCU on Wednesday night that saw her post 14 kills and 17 digs. Webster is one of the most efficient outside hitters in the league posting a hitting percentage of .314 this season. It gets even better in Big 12 action where she is hitting .370. Webster is pounding out 3.86 kills per set in conference play.
Sophomore middle blocker Khat Bell appears to be healthy after suffering a knee injury midway through conference play last season. Bell has made major contributions over the last few matches for Texas, including seven kills and five blocks against TCU on Wednesday. In a sweep at Oklahoma on Sunday, Bell had eight kills on nine swings and also had five blocks.
Texas is one of the most efficient teams in the nation this year with a team hitting percentage of .303. In Monday’s NCAA statistics report, the Longhorns ranked sixth at .296. A .423 clip against TCU helped pull that up to .303.
In the win over OU, the Longhorns took it to the Sooners in the second set. After winning a tight first set 25-23, Texas stormed out in the second set and blasted 19 kills on 21 swings and no errors for a hitting percentage of .905 in the second set. Texas backed that up with a .550 clip again with no errors. The Longhorns hit .571 with only two attack errors in the entire match.
Texas is not all offense. The Longhorns also boast one of the biggest and strongest blocks in the NCAA. Texas is averaging 3.13 blocks per set after putting nine up on TCU this Wednesday and ranks fifth in the nation. Khat Bell is playing a major role in that as she is averaging 1.49 per set in her return and 1.83 in conference play.
Catching Up with the ‘Cats
The Wildcats are 7-3 in Big 12 Conference play as the second half of the league schedule is underway. K-State is currently in a tie for third place and only one game behind Kansas for second. K-State dropped two road matches on the road during the first half of conference action and already posted one in the second at West Virginia last week.
Saturday marked K-State’s 20th win of the season and the ninth time head coach Suzie Fritz has led the Wildcats to 20 wins in her 12 years leading the program. The win came against Baylor in four sets with senior Kathleen Ludwig leading the way with 15 kills. Kaitlynn Pelger added 12 kills and had a double-double with 16 digs. Senior middle blocker Alex Muff kept her streak of solid performances going as she contributed 10 kills and four blocks.
Baylor hit just .106, marking the 10th time this season the Wildcats have held their opponent under .150 for a match. K-State had 9.5 blocks to help limit Baylor in the match.
K-State’s defense has been solid up front the last two matches with 11 blocks at West Virginia last week as well. Muff tallied 10 blocks assists over the two matches and Pelger had nine. The Wildcats have posted double digits in blocks eight times this season as K-State continues to be one of the top blocking teams in the nation this season.
The Wildcats are still ranked among the top teams in the country in the polls and have the stats to back it up. The Wildcats are 23rd in the NCAA in assists per set in the NCAA’s latest statistics report on Monday averaging 13.32. With senior setter Caitlyn Donahue directing the offense the team is also ranked19th in the NCAA in hitting percentage at .264 and 34th in kills averaging 14.06. Defensively, K-State is one of the top blocking teams as well stuffing its opponents with 2.59 blocks per set to rank 40th in the nation.
The Wildcats are posting those strong numbers thanks to a number of individuals having great seasons for the team. Donahue ranks seventh in the NCAA in assists (11.83) and in league play leads the conference by nearly a full assist per set. She also has eight double-doubles on the year. Muff is one of the best blockers in K-State history and is showing it by ranking 20th in the nation this season at 1.41 per set. Pelger is 50th in points while standing just outside the top 50 in kills and hitting percentage.
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.
Pelger is averaging 3.76 kills per set and has increased her defensive production on the back row to average 2.86 digs this year. The junior has tallied seven double-doubles on the year with six of them coming by way of kills and digs.
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 is averaging 2.43 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 is hitting .326 to lead the team in that category and rank fifth in the conference.
Muff has posted10 or more kills in five of the last six matches and hit .352 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. She also had six blocks at TCU. Against Kansas, Muff again had 10 kills.
Two weeks ago, Muff posted a new career-high 17 kills in a win over Texas Tech. Her .593 hitting percentage also ranks fourth in school history for a five-set match. After her career day, Muff had only six kills at West Virginia but backed that up with 10 kills and four blocks against Baylor.
Defensively over the last six matches, Muff has averaged 1.27 blocks. She now ranks third in the league in that category with 1.26 in conference matches overall.
For her career, Muff ranks seventh in school history in block assists with 383 and is poised to move into the Top Five soon. She needs just three more block assists to post her third straight year with at least 100.
K-State Ranked No. 16
The Wildcats held steady at No. 16 in this week’s AVCA Coaches Top 25 Poll after winning on the road at West Virginia and besting Baylor on Homecoming last week. After the best start in school history at 12-0, K-State climbed to No. 11 six weeks ago and still remains among the top teams in the country. The No. 11 ranking was the highest the Wildcats had been ranked since being No. 11 on Nov. 26, 2007.
Four Big 12 teams remain ranked, as Texas continues to lead the way moving up to No. 7 this week. After a loss at Iowa State, the Kansas Jayhawks dropped three spots to No. 20 and the Cyclones moved up one to No. 21.
A number of K-State’s nonconference foes are among the top teams as well. Minnesota and Dayton are still ranked with the Golden Gophers holding onto No. 10 and Dayton up one spot to No. 14 this week. The Wildcats defeated both the Gophers and the Flyers. St. Mary’s cracked the Top 25 last week after upsetting No. 13 San Diego and holds onto No. 25 in this week’s poll. One more of K-State’s nonconference opponents is receiving votes. Creighton is just outside the Top 25 as the second leading vote getter on the list of teams receiving votes and this week and holds a 20-3 record overall and is 11-1 in Missouri Valley play.
The NCAA released its updated RPI rankings on Monday, and the computers continue to love the K-State Wildcats. With a 20-3 record entering this week the Wildcats hold steady at No. 12 in the latest RPI report. Similar to basketball, the NCAA selection committee uses RPI as a major factor in determining at-large bids and seeding for the NCAA Tournament. The selection committee only seeds the top 16 teams for the postseason, with regional sites hosted at Purdue, Texas, Cal and in Omaha this year. The first two rounds of the tournament are played at 16 campus sites to be determined by the committee.
Eight of K-State’s opponents are in the Top 32 of the RPI, including three in the top 10 in Texas (4), Minnesota (8), and Kansas (10).
K-State’s football team is a perfect 8-0 and ranked No. 3 following a homecoming victory over No. 15 Texas Tech this weekend. With K-State’s No. 16-ranked volleyball team at 20-3, the Wildcats join 10 other schools that can boast the same accomplishment so far with their football and volleyball teams ranked.
The Wildcats are joined by fellow Big 12 school Texas to have football and volleyball both ranked with the Longhorns’ football team holding onto No. 22 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. The Pac-12 has four schools on the list as UCLA football returns to the AP Top 25 this week. Oregon is the only schools with both teams in the Top 10. Oregon is No. 2 in both football polls and No. 2 in volleyball.
K-State currently stands at 20-3, but the way the Wildcats have been winning is just as impressive. A total of 15 of those victories have been 3-0 sweeps of their opponents. That total already far surpasses last year’s eight sweeps and trails only Western Kentucky for the most in the nation entering this weekend’s matches. The Hilltoppers lead NCAA Division I with 19 sweeps. Six other teams are now tied with K-State for second with 15 sweeps.
Some of the top programs in the nation are on this list with the Wildcats, including No. 2 Oregon, No. 6 USC. and No. 7 Texas. No. 14 Dayton and No. 17 BYU also have 15 3-0 wins. Two Top 10 teams trail K-State in the category with 14 sweeps in No. 3 Penn State and No. 8 Washington.
The 3-0 sweeps have come against strong competition as well, including then-No. 22 Iowa State. The Wildcats swept Creighton on the Bluejays’ home court while the team was receiving votes in the poll. K-State swept 2011 NCAA Tournament teams Missouri State and Tulsa, as well as then-No. 20 Dayton. Some opponents K-State swept earlier in the season have responded with signature wins as well. Oregon State defeated No. 2 Penn State in five sets, and Syracuse bested No. 23 Iowa State on the Cyclones’ home floor, and St. Mary’s has defeated three ranked opponents in then-No. 18 Pepperdine, No. 11 BYU and No. 13 San Diego.
Packed with Purple
K-State fans have traditionally made Ahearn Field House one of the greatest venues and atmospheres in the Big 12 Conference. In 2011, fans packed Ahearn with purple averaging more than 1,500 per match and ranked No. 20 in the nation. The 2012 season as been even better with the Wildcats ranked No. 21 in this week’s NCAA attendance report, averaging more than 1,800 per match.
More than 3,000 fans packed the stands four weeks ago as the Wildcats played host to No. 9 Texas. It marked the first crowd to crack the 3,000 mark since posting two such attendance marks during 2010.
This season started off strong with more than 2,700 fans in attendance for the season opener against UC Irvine and following the match Suzie Fritz again praised the fans and said K-State is one of the best atmospheres to play in all the country. For the final match of opening weekend more than 1,500 faithful came out to watch a come-from-behind victory over Oregon State to average 1,755 for the three matches at the Varney’s Invitational.
Conference play has seen some of the largest crowds of the season at Ahearn Field House. In the conference home opener 1,912 fans came to Ahearn Field House to welcome West Virginia to the Big 12 Conference. Then against No. 22 Iowa State, fans filled the stands with 2,060 at Ahearn. With an attendance of 3,044 against Texas and 2,943 against Baylor for Homecoming, K-State fans are averaging more than 2,200 strong during Big 12 matches.
This year more renovations have been done to Ahearn Field House to enhance the atmosphere. The entire balcony seating area has been painted purple and white. The railings have all been converted from cream to white and the bleachers are now K-State Purple instead of brown. Along with the seating renovations and Powercat banner installed over the previous two years, Ahearn Field House is now truly home to the Purple and the White. A new media center has been installed as well for journalists to cover matches for their respective media outlets.
Redesigned banners have been hung in Ahearn as well replacing the older ones. The traditional style banners commemorate the winning tradition at K-State, displaying all 13 NCAA Tournament banners, All-Americans and the 2003 Big 12 Championship.
Three weeks ago in a win at TCU the Wildcats accomplished a rare feat. K-State had three players reach double digits in kills, and all three of those players hit at least .400 for the match. The combination of Kaitlynn Pelger, Lilla Porubek and Alex Muff provided the firepower for the victory and did so in commanding fashion. Pelger led the way with 12 kills on a .476 hitting clip. Porubek tallied 11 kills on .409 hitting and Muff added 10 kills to go with her hitting percentage of .400. All three had just two errors apiece.
It is the first time since playing South Dakota State at the Dr. Mary Jo Wynn Invitational (Sept. 10) last year the Wildcats had this type of performance. Against the Jack Rabbits, it was Pelger (15K, .667), Porubek (16K, .433) and Dakota Kaufman (11K, .500) that provided the spark.