When Texas A&M comes to Manhattan for a volleyball match against K-State tonight, both teams will be fighting for honor.
For Texas A&M (12-14, 6-10 Big 12 Conference), the honor will be in restoring itself to the team that was receiving votes to be in the top 25 prior to the first match of the season.
For K-State (10-17, 4-12), the honor will be in proving that the eight straight sweeps starting a month and a half ago were just a fluke, and that the team is better than the record shows. With tonight as the last home match while school is still in session, the stakes are a bit higher for the fans, but head coach Suzie Fritz still feels the same pressure to win.
“I think we’ve kind of felt that all along,” Fritz said. “I don’t think that, all of a sudden, just because we’re towards the end, we have this greater sense of urgency to try to play well or to try to be the team that we have wanted to be all along. I think that hasn’t gone away.”
This win will not be easy for either school, but the competition does seem level. For one, Texas A&M sits right above K-State in the Big 12 Conference standings due to the former’s slightly more prolific record. In a similar vein, both teams rank in the bottom half of all conference schools in most statistics, including hitting percentage, kills and digs. However, K-State does have one leg up this season in the odds for who will win: the Wildcats swept Texas A&M in the first match of October in College Station, Texas, and now they have home-court advantage.
“We played very well down there,” Fritz said. “The only assumption I can make is that, if we play very well up here, we’ll have every opportunity.”
She added that she thinks both teams have improved during the season.
According to the statistics, the Aggies will rely heavily on junior outside hitter Kelsey Black. Standing at 5-feet-11-inches, Black does not fit the standard profile for her position, but that certainly does not mean that she fills the role unsuccessfully; it is quite the opposite, in fact.
The Amarillo, Texas, native whom Fritz called “a terrific player” leads her team in kills per game with 4.13, which is more than double the next highest player and quite a bit higher than K-State’s top hitters — senior outside hitter JuliAnne Chisholm with 2.97, and freshman middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger with 2.77. Black is second in the conference for her kill statistic and first for service aces per game, hitting at least one on average per match.
Judging from the rest of Texas A&M’s statistics, it might seem like the Aggies put most of their eggs in one basket, but Fritz sees it differently.
“I think (Black) is kind of their go-to, but their distribution is actually more even than you might think,” Fritz said. “She’ll take a lot of the swings, but certainly they’ve got some other people that can do some damage.”
Part of the reason for Black’s high numbers, Fritz said, was that she receives a fair number of sets from the back row as well as the front row, giving her twice as many potential plays for hits as other players have.
No matter whom the Aggies set the most, though, K-State has limited time to pull out some more wins.
“I know we have four more opportunities to play,” Fritz said. “We want to try to win as many of those as we can.”
First serve is set for 7 p.m.