MANHATTAN, Kan. – After the best start in school history and finishing the regular season 21-8, the Kansas State volleyball team is headed to the NCAA Tournament again receiving an at-large bid to the postseason on Sunday afternoon. The Wildcats will make their 14th NCAA Tournament appearance and face the Northern Iowa Panthers in the first round of action Thursday in Lincoln, Neb.
Head Coach Suzie Fritz said she is excited to play in the NCAA Tournament again with an experienced roster and to begin preparing for Northern Iowa. She and her team are aware it is a game by game situation now and her Wildcats will be ready.
“I think it is a pretty difficult draw and a very difficult first round matchup with Northern Iowa, and that match is the only one I care about right now,” Fritz said. “You can win 20 matches or you could lose 20 matches and it does not really matter because once you get to this point, you are playing one at a time. I think our Director of Athletics John Currie is right, all we are trying to do is be 1-0, and then we are trying to be 1-0 again. And that is the philosophy that we are going to have going into it. So we will put everything we have into Northern Iowa.”
K-State is familiar with NU Coliseum and hopes to relive the magic of last season’s run to the Sweet 16 when the Wildcats defeated the No. 2 Nebraska Cornhuskers on their home floor in the second round.
This marks K-State’s 14th NCAA Tournament appearance and ninth in the 12 years Fritz has led the program. With last year’s deep run in the tournament the Wildcats are 14-13 all-time in the tournament and 9-8 under Fritz.
K-State (21-8) takes on a Northern Iowa team that finished the year 24-9 and finished second in the competitive Missouri Valley Conference. The Valley got three teams into the tournament this year, including K-State opponent Creighton. The Wildcats are 6-3-1 all-time against the Panthers and have never faced them in the postseason. K-State is 1-0 against teams from the Missouri Valley in the NCAA Tournament after sweeping Wichita State last year in Lincoln. The last time K-State played Northern Iowa was during the 2008 Varney’s Invitational.
Northern Iowa is no stranger to the postseason with the Panthers making their 18th NCAA Tournament appearance and seventh straight. UNI has advanced to the Sweet 16 three times, but not since 2002. Last season, the Panthers fell in the second round to Florida.
“They are a very good Missouri Valley program,” Fritz said. “They are well coached. They are always a solid team in their conference. They are always very competitive and I really like the way that they play. They are very talented kids and I think their coaching staff does a good job with them. They are the real deal.”
Senior opposite Kathleen Ludwig is ready to begin the fourth stage of the season in her last year at K-State. With the regular season behind the Wildcats, it is now time to turn the focus toward playing Northern Iowa in the NCAA Tournament and playing their best volleyball possible Thursday night.
“We are so excited that we get another opportunity to compete and to go into another NCAA Tournament. We are excited that we worked so hard to get to this point and we are very optimistic. We are very excited to continue to get better and make a run this year,” Ludwig said. “Right away, it is Northern Iowa. That is the first and foremost thing on our list. We just need to do what we have to do in order to get that first win and if that happens, we will do what we need to do to beat Nebraska.”
This year’s team boasts a strong amount of experience with four seniors and five juniors who see extensive playing time on the court. After being one of the youngest teams in the tournament last year, now the Wildcats have one of the more experienced rosters. That experience could come in handy for the Wildcats. Fritz said her team is looking forward to using that experience and playing the Coliseum again, but the 2011 tournament there will not play too big a factor.
“Having been there before, period, is helpful no matter what, just knowing that we have been that situation,” Fritz said. “There are certainly some similarities because we have played in the Coliseum a lot; this is not a new venue for us. I think the familiarity of it and the fact that we have some experiences there is helpful, but I do not think it makes a difference.”
The Big 12 Conference will again be well-represented with five teams making the NCAA Tournament. Big 12 champion Texas is the No. 3 overall seed in the tournament and will host the first two rounds. Austin also is one of the four sites selected before the season as a host for a regional. Kansas is the No. 11 seed and also will host the first two rounds at Allen Fieldhouse. Iowa State will host in Hilton Coliseum as the No. 15 seed, and Oklahoma will travel to Provo, Utah, for a subregional hosted by No. 12 seed BYU.
Nine of K-State’s opponents this season were selected to the field as well. In addition to the four Big 12 opponents, five of the Wildcats’ nonconference opponents made the bracket. Minnesota is hosting the opening rounds and received the No. 8 seed. Creighton won the Missouri Valley this year and is headed to Minnesota’s sub regional. Dayton will play Pepperdine in Eugene, Ore., Tulsa faces the No. 14 Florida Gators in Gainesville, and Saint Mary’s takes on San Diego State at Southern California’s subregional.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 had the most teams make the tournament with a total of seven each. Penn State received the No. 1 seed out of the Big Ten and Stanford is No. 2. The West Coast Conference was next with six selections.
To purchase tickets and for more information on tickets to the NCAA Tournament contact the K-State Ticket Office at 1-888-221-CATS or online at kstatesports.com/tickets.
NCAA Tournament First and Second Rounds
Lincoln, Neb. – NU Coliseum (Omaha Regional)
First Round - Thursday
4:30 p.m. K-State vs. Northern Iowa
7 p.m. Nebraska vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore
Second Round - Friday
7 p.m. TBD vs. TBD
K-State NCAA Tournament History
2011: W 3-0 vs. Wichita State; W 3-2 at No. 2 Nebraska; L 0-3 vs. Pepperdine
2008: L 2-3 vs. Santa Clara
2007: W 3-0 vs. Tulsa; L 2-3 vs. No. 13 Oregon
2005: W 3-1 v. Florida A&M; L 0-3 at No. 4 Florida
2004: W 3-0 vs. Cal State Northridge; L 0-3 at No. 8 Southern California
2003: W 3-0 vs. Ohio; W 3-0 vs. Arkansas; L 1-3 vs. No. 10 Penn State
2002: W 3-0 vs. Michigan; L 1-3 vs. No. 11 Washington State
2001: W 3-2 vs. Arkansas; L 1-3 vs. Nebraska
2000: W 3-1 vs. Loyola-Chicago; W 3-1 vs. Pepperdine; L 1-3 vs. Wisconsin
1999: W 3-0 vs. Louisville; L 1-3 vs. Colorado State
1998: W 3-0 vs. Georgetown; L 0-3 vs. BYU
1997: L 1-3 vs. San Diego
1996: W 3-1 vs. Cal State Northridge; L 0-3 vs. Washington State