Wildcats open conference tonight against KU

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Tonight, K-State (5-5) faces the University of Kansas (9-2) to open conference play for the volleyball team. Last season, Kansas swept K-State at both meetings, but head coach Suzie Fritz said the big picture was more telling.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of success over the course of our time here at Kansas State against a lot of people, certainly against the University of Kansas,” Fritz said.

The numbers support her assertion. In the 100 matches between the two teams, K-State won 58. The year 2007 marked the last time the teams met in the conference opener when the Wildcats swept Kansas, before rolling on to a high conference standing and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Even so, Fritz admitted Kansas still puts up a good challenge.

“They’re a very good volleyball team,” Fritz said. “They’re much improved.”

The Jayhawks have some talent on their side. Senior outside hitter Karina Garlington currently leads the team in kills per game with 3.49. Add in her .235 hitting percentage and 21 blocks, and she is a major obstacle for K-State. Garlington does not spend much time in the back row, a job that is left up to a bumper crop of mostly freshmen.

At the top of the first-year stat board is defensive specialist Brianne Riley. The Illinois native has recorded 3.55 digs per game, far beyond her more experienced teammates. Receiving her passes is another freshman, Kara Wehrs, a setter with strong numbers everywhere, including per game 9.50 assists, 2.33 digs and 1.06 kills, with a .214 hitting percentage and 21 blocks, making her a notable factor in every component of the sport.

K-State is also sporting some players with relatively little experience. For instance, sophomore Caitlyn Donahue is dominating the setter position, and one would be hard-pressed to guess her age based on her ability. The same is true of freshman middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger, who has 2.50 kills per game and a team-high 50 blocks, far beyond many others in the front row. Fritz said winning the first conference match would help get the ball rolling.

“We’re an entirely different team,” Fritz said. “It would certainly be a positive thing to get off on the right foot.”

K-State is coming off two near-wins and a sweep last weekend at the Kentucky Invitational, where the Wildcats took two ranked opponents to five games, losing by just a few points each time. Fritz said it was frustrating not to have kept the momentum long enough to win wins, but her team has learned and is working on improving.

“We’ve identified maybe three of four key areas where we feel like we can really upgrade quickly and have spent a lot of time since those two matches kind of evaluating those things and where we’re at after the preseason,” Fritz said.

The match against the in-state rival will be a good opportunity to show off the new changes. Senior libero Lauren Mathewson said the history between the teams was not so important, as this is a new season.

“It’s a different team this year, so we’re just taking it game by game,” Mathewson said.

First serve is set for 7 p.m. in Ahearn Field House. Fans not able to attend the match can watch it on Metro Sports or listen on 1350 KMAN.

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