Wildcats Open Season at UNLV Invitational


On Friday the K-State Volleyball team will travel to Las Vegas to participate in the UNLV Invitational. The Wildcats will kick off their season with Portland on Aug. 30 at 6 p.m. CT. They will then finish out the round-robin tournament on Saturday with Cal State Fullerton at 12 p.m. CT and UNLV at 9 p.m. CT. All three matches will be held at Cox Pavilion, and should help K-State head coach Suzie Fritz identify the strengths and weaknesses of her squad.

Here’s a preview of the four schools competing in the UNLV Invitational:

Portland Pilots

The Pilots are coming off a 2012 season that saw them post a record of 7-23. Portland returns four starters from that squad, including junior middle blocker Bea Loper. Loper, along with setter Monica Jordan, played in all 111 of the Pilots matches last season. The Pilots also bring back their digs leader from a season ago, sophomore Jacky Rodriguez. The Wildcats and Pilots have played four times, with K-State leading the series 3-1. K-State and Portland last played in 2009.

Cal State Fullerton Titans

The big storyline from the Titans offseason was the graduation of two-time All-American Kayla Neto. Neto holds the record for career kills and points. In addition, Cal State Fullerton lost seven other letter winners. Last year’s team went 15-16, and was unranked in this season’s preseason polls. Look for the Titans to lean heavily on senior transfers Alyse Hensley (Boise State) and Leah Stevens (Arizona). Cal State Fullerton also returns 2012 Big West Honorable Mention junior outside hitter Bre Morland. Morland led the squad with 49 aces, and averaged 3.34 kills per set. The Titans have also brought in six freshmen to help offset the departure of so many seniors. The series between the Wildcats and Titans is currently tied at one game apiece, with the most recent match up ending in a 3-1 win by K-State.

UNLV Rebels

The Rebels will most likely provide the Wildcats with the toughest competition this weekend. In 2012, UNLV won 18 matches, 10 of which came against Mountain West Opponents. All-conference members freshman Kinsey Caldwell and senior Madeline Westman will lead the Rebels this season. Both Caldwell and Westman appeared in all 108 matches for UNLV. Cindy Fredrick coaches the Rebels, and enters her third season at UNLV. She has over 25 years of coaching experience at the Division 1 level, including stints at Iowa and Washington State. This will be the first time the Wildcats and Rebels have faced each other.

K-State Wildcats

K-State is hoping to replace four seniors from last year’s team that finished 21-9 and earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament. While a large chunk of the Wildcat offense has departed, including 1st Team All-Big 12 setter Caitlyn Donahue, K-State returns six seniors that all played valuable roles on last year’s squad. Senior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pleger, who hit .317 with 361 kills last season, will lead the Wildcats. Pleger was an All-Big 12 selection last year, and was a unanimous preseason selection this year. She is joined on the front line by seniors Lilla Porubek and Courtney Traxson. Porubek finished 10th in the Big 12 with 2.79 kills per set, and Traxson posted three matches with 10 or more kills in Big 12 play.

Defensively, Manhattan native and senior Tristan McCarty will anchor the Wildcats. The defensive specialist and libero played in all 103 matches for K-State last year, and set a career high with 238 digs.

Keep an eye out for redshirt freshman setter Katie Brand. Brand, a native of Grand Island, Nebraska, was tabbed the Preseason Big 12 Co-Freshman of the Year. Brand will become the first setter to start as a freshman for the Wildcats since Abby Fay in 2008.

While the Wildcats are working in a new setter for the first time in three years, the K-State coaching staff hopes the team’s trip to Russia this summer helped expedite the process. Over the course of the twelve-day trip, the Wildcats played six matches against Professional and Olympic level competition. The trip afforded the Wildcats extra practice time and matches that could become invaluable as they move forward in the season.

Head coach Suzie Fritz is the longest tenured head coach at the UNLV Invitational, heading into her 13th year with the Wildcats. Her 238 wins are a school record. She has taken K-State to the NCAA Tournament nine times in the past twelve years, including three trips to the regional semifinals.

Tournament Preview

Since 2011, the Wildcats have compiled an 18-3 record in tournaments. Last year, K-State posted a 9-0 mark in the three tournaments they competed in. The Wildcats are the only team participating in the tournament to receive votes in the AVCA Preseason Poll. K-State tallied 32 votes. Last season, the Wildcats entered the year ranked 22, and finished the year with a loss to Northern Iowa in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.