Volleyball to play top teams in season opener

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A beach-side hotel, plane flights, five days in Hawaii and missing a few days of class: What more could you want in the first week of school? How about a three-day athletic competition against some of the top schools in the country?

This weekend, the K-State volleyball team opens its season with non-conference play against the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Hawaii at Honolulu and the University of San Diego, all ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll. K-State head coach Suzie Fritz doesn’t seem to be worried, though, despite the odds.

“I feel very well-prepared going into the tournament in terms of how much we were able to accomplish in a very short period of time,” Fritz said. “I feel like we’re about as prepared as we can be going into a very, very difficult and competitive situation.”

On Friday, K-State will play its season opener against No. 16 UCLA. Last season, the Bruins finished with a 24-9 record, which included wins over powerhouse teams like Nebraska and California, but because they return only two seniors — an outside hitter and a defensive specialist — they dropped slightly in the poll. The history between the two teams is rather scarce, with only three previous matchups — two of which were in tournaments hosted by Hawaii.

After a day of rest, the Wildcats will suit back up, this time against one of the top teams in the country and the tournament host: the University of Hawaii at Honolulu.

No. 5 Hawaii — which has 14 straight conference titles, nearly flawless conference records in the formidable Western Athletic Conference — made it to the Final Four in last season’s NCAA tournament before losing to the three-time national champions. This year, however, it lost five seniors and two juniors, shifting its overall age closer to K-State’s. The Rainbow Wahine closed 2009 with only three losses, boosting its bid for a 15th title this season.

The Wildcats cap their first tournament appearance with an evening match on Sunday against No. 22 University of San Diego. Unlike the other contestants at the tournament, the Toreros have a more evenly balanced roster, with a handful of returning upperclassmen and incoming freshmen. This could give San Diego an advantage as they look for another competitive season after finishing the last one 18-7. Returning right-side hitter Ali Troost — who recorded 39 aces in 2009 — is expected to lead the offensive attack again this season with fellow senior Kelsi Myers as setter. Troost and Myers present a lethal combination due to their experience together.

K-State has its own strengths, though, Fritz said, and should not be disregarded as the underdog.

“We’ve been able to hit on a lot of things; we’ve been able to improve on a lot of things,” she said. “So, I guess I’m optimistic about where we are at this point in the season.”

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