It hasn’t been a perfect start so far for the K-State volleyball team, but that isn’t to say it hasn’t been close to one. The Wildcats finished up their nonconference schedule this past weekend by going 3-0 against Arkansas, Saint Louis and Missouri State, and have now shifted their focus to the Big 12. K-State, now 12-1 on the season, will play one last exhibition tune up before beginning their brutal conference schedule. The Wildcats will take the court this evening against the Italian U-23 National team. The game will begin at 7 p.m. at Ahearn Field House.
The Wildcats have been piecing together a very impressive season so far. After a small hiccup against Santa Clara two weekends ago, K-State has been pedal to the metal ever since. At 12-1, it is evident the Wildcats have developed a game plan that leads to success. The offense relies heavily on redshirt freshman setter Katie Brand and her ability to distribute the ball. If the Wildcats are firing on all cylinders, it is usually because Brand is setting multiple hitters and keeping the defense on its heels. So far this season, Brand has recorded 493 assists, good for fifth in the Big 12, and best among freshmen. She also ranks 5th in service aces, with 16 on the season.
While Brand has been solid in her play thus far, her job is made much easier by the hitters around her. The Wildcats have a team hitting percentage of .213, and average nearly 13 kills per match. Senior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger and senior outside hitter Lilla Porubek lead a deep offensive unit. Pelger, who has won two tournament MVPs so far this season, averages 2.74 kills per set and leads the team with 137 total kills. Porubek adds 2.33 kills per set and has been increasing her production as of late. In total, the Wildcats have eight players that average at least one kill per set, which speaks volumes to the balance of the K-State offensive attack. When a team leans heavily on one hitter, its defenses can send two, sometimes three blockers to the net to close down the hitting window and funnel the swing towards one part of the court. However, when an offense becomes unpredictable, teams can sometimes only commit one blocker, providing the hitters with much bigger windows, and a much higher rate of success.
On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats are starting to find their groove. As a team, K-State averages 2.81 blocks per set, which is the best average in the Big 12. The Wildcats have improved that mark by posting 10-plus blocks in four consecutive matches. Redshirt junior middle blocker Taylor Johnson leads the Wildcat defense. Johnson averages nearly 1.3 blocks per set, good for fourth in the Big 12. She is joined by a dominant frontline that has given the Wildcats momentum time and time again this season. Through 13 games, K-State is second in the Big 12 in opponent kill percentage, with teams hitting only .163.
During the preseason, head coach Suzie Fritz spoke very highly of the Italian U-23 National team. She was thrilled that the Wildcats had the opportunity to play such high level competition, and was adamant that just because the game was an exhibition didn’t mean K-State or Italy would back down.
“This will be a tremendous opportunity, as the Italian teams traditionally play some of the best volleyball in the world,” Fritz said during the preseason media day. “This team will be exceptionally competitive, and we will be one of their warm up matches prior to heading to Mexico for the U23 World Championships.”
Look for the Wildcats to focus on working out some of the kinks, and possibly trying some new things on offense and defense. The exhibition will be a great chance to work numerous players into the rotation, and to try and find a lineup that can do some damage come Big 12 play.
After the game tonight, K-State will travel to Morgantown, W.Va. to battle the West Virginia Mountaineers. The game will take place on Sept. 27 at 7:30 p.m. (CST). After that, the Wildcats will return home to kick off their home slate of Big 12 games against in-state rival Kansas on Oct. 2.