Despite losing key players, volleyball team prepares for success next season


After losing four starters from a team that went 21-9 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, one might think the expectations surrounding K-State’s volleyball team would be lowered. With 12 years of experience and over 230 wins as the head coach for the Wildcats, Suzie Fritz knows better than that.

“Our expectations don’t really change from year to year,” Fritz said at the Volleyball Media Days on Aug 21. “We want to be in the top third of the Big 12. We graduated four starters in pretty key positions, but we also have six seniors returning who have been in roles for a great amount of their careers.”

Even with the graduation of four starters, Fritz said she thinks this team has a chance to compete at a high level.

“There are so many things I like about this team,” Fritz said. “The list is really long. I like the way they work. I like their humility. I like who they are. They are really fun to be around.”

The Wildcats will lean heavily on seniors Kaitlynn Pelger, Lilla Porubek, and Courtney Traxson to put away points on offense. Those three combined for 777 kills last season, accounting for more than 54 percent of the Wildcats’ scoring. Pelger led K-State last year in kills, kills per set, and hitting percentage. As a senior, she said she hopes to do even more.

“I always have high expectations for myself and for my team,” Pelger said. “Going into this season, this is my third year playing all six rotations. I have a lot of high expectations. I want to be on the court as much as possible to help my team.”

For the Wildcats to enjoy the same level of success as past K-State teams, Pelger will need to have a big year. The other nine Big 12 coaches seem to think she will.

Over the summer, Pelger was named a unanimous Preseason All-Big 12 selection.

Behind Pelger, Porubek and Traxson will be a revamped defense that will add depth. The Wildcats have five defensive specialists all battling for position in the rotation. According to Fritz, that competition in practice is very beneficial.

“These guys extend rallies,” said Fritz. “It is very difficult to kill a ball in our practice right now. We just play longer. We make it tougher on other hitters, and I think long term, over the course of the season, that is going to be really good for us.”

One of the younger players to watch out for this season is redshirt freshman setter Katie Brand. Brand, a native of Grand Island, Neb., has big shoes to fill. She replaces three-year starter and First Team All-Big 12 setter Caitlyn Donahue. According to Pelger, Brand has all the tools to hit the ground running.

“She has come in and worked really hard,” Pelger said. “She is going to be one of the best setters K-State has ever had. She wants to get the perfect set for everyone, every time. I am extremely excited for everyone to see all the hard work she has put in.”

After a year working under and learning from Donahue, Fritz said she believes Brand is more than ready to help lead the Wildcats.

“She is going to have a lot of experience around her, which I think will help her,” said Fritz. “I feel pretty strongly she is ready to go.”

Trying to bring together a young setter with experienced hitters can be a difficult task. Hitters grow accustomed to a specific style of set. The hitters get comfortable with a certain speed and location of the set, and it can be challenging to adjust. The Wildcats’ summer trip to Russia afforded Brand, Pelger, and the rest of the offense a chance to mesh against professional and even Olympic-level competition and to work through some of those adjustments.

“We got to work out a lot of the kinks in June that normally we are working out in September,” Fritz said. “When you talk about working out the kinks, she [Brand] is a significant part of that.”

While Fritz publicly admits that Brand’s performance will greatly impact the team as a whole, she is adamant that her freshman setter has what it takes.

“She is going to have some freshman moments, but you will not find a harder worker,” Fritz said. “You will not find somebody that wants to serve her team more than Katie Brand. So she has a lot of redeeming qualities that I think are going to make her really good at that position.”

A change at setter could mean growing pains, but Fritz believes the trip to Russia and the ample amount of senior leadership will help expedite the process.

“We have six seniors, so it is a really dynamic and diverse group,” Fritz said. “The best teams that we’ve had have not had that one person that had to carry that leadership load. They have been teams that spread that ability across the board. They all understand what their strengths are and what they can bring to the team.”

The Wildcats open their season at the UNLV Tournament this Friday and Saturday in Las Vegas, Nev. against Portland, Cal State Fullerton and UNLV. After months of practice, K-State will finally be able to put it all together and start working towards their goals as a team.

For Fritz, the only variable seems to be time.

“It’s not if we can be successful, but when,” Fritz said.