Volleyball team looks to replicate recent success


    With the start of the Wildcats’ 2008 volleyball season just three days away, the atmosphere within the confines of Ahearn Field House is becoming increasingly optimistic.
    Coming off the heels of its 2007 campaign, which included 23 wins, a third-place finish in the Big 12 and the team’s sixth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last seven years, the K-State volleyball team appears poised to have another successful season and to contend for the Big 12 Conference title.
    “Our expectations stay the same every year,” head coach Suzie Fritz said. “We don’t care about anyone’s expectations except our own. We just want to win as many matches as possible and put ourselves in a position to win a conference championship.”
    K-State, which is ranked No. 14 in the American College Volleyball Association preseason poll, welcomes four newcomers, including true freshmen Kathleen Ludwig, an outside hitter from Shawnee, Kan.; Izabela Grot, an outside hitter from Krakow, Poland; and Melanie Delimont, a middle blocker from Wichita. The Wildcats’ top newcomer, setter Soriana Pacheco of Turmero, Venezuela, was the 2007 National Junior College Player of the Year at Western Nebraska Community College.
    Five seniors will play their final season in a Wildcat uniform, including opposite hitter Nataly Korobkova, the 2007 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and a third team All-American, and middle blocker Megan Farr, a 2007 Big 12 Honorable Mention selection.
    Following the departure of libero Angie Lastra, setter Stacey Spiegelberg and libero Lauren Rosenthal — all members of last year’s senior class — several positions will need to be filled. Fritz, entering her eighth season as the Wildcats’ head coach, said there has been plenty of competition for the remaining starting positions.
    “I like the competition we’ve had so far,” she said. “There are still a lot of decisions to be made and positions to be earned.”
    Sophomore Lauren Mathewson has pulled ahead in preseason practices to be the frontrunner for the starting libero position, while Pachecho and redshirt freshman Abby Fay are both considered candidates for the setter position. Fritz said all three players have made significant progress.
    “Lauren has had a great two weeks,” she said. “She’s been working really hard and busting her hump in practice.”
    Fritz said the team is adapting slowly to new faces at the setter position.
    “The style that Abby and Soriana play with is different than how Stacey played,” she said. “Ball control is our biggest concern right now, and it’s something we’ve been working hard on.”
    Fritz also said Pacheco’s success in the past should help her make the transition to the Division I level.
    “Soriana has had experience on a big stage,” she said. “She played on the Venezuelan national team and she was the National Player of the Year last season at Western Nebraska. That should make it easier, but it’s still a big transition.”   
    Fritz said she thinks the Wildcats, who feature players from five different countries, will have to overcome certain boundaries created by the team’s diversity.
    “There are cultural differences we’ll have to handle as the season progresses,” she said. “We let [the team] know that it’s OK to be different. It doesn’t matter if you’re from Russia, Venezuela or Salina. Volleyball is its own language.”
    K-State held its annual alumni match and purple-white scrimmage Saturday at Ahearn. The regular season begins Friday when the Wildcats take on Tennessee State in the Mortar Board Premier, where No. 25 Purdue University will act as host. The Wildcats open their home slate on Sept. 8 when they welcome California State Bakersfield to the “Old Barn.”