Volleybal opens home slate with K-State Invitational


The K-State volleyball team returned from the UNLV Invitational with a 3-0 record and the tournament championship. After a week of practice, the Wildcats now open up their home slate of games with the K-State Invitational. The two-day tournament, which begins today and ends on Saturday, features Southern Illinois, Southeast Missouri State and Siena. K-State begins the tournament against Southeast Missouri State at 12 p.m. before capping off their night at 7:30 p.m. against Southern Illinois. The Wildcats will finish up the round-robin tournament with Siena at 1 p.m. on Saturday. All of the tournament’s games will be played at historic Ahearn Field House.

Here’s a preview of what to expect from each team:

Southern Illinois Salukis

Southern Illinois enters the tournament at 1-2. The Salukis picked up a win against Connecticut, but dropped matches to IPFW and Duquesne. Senior outside hitters, Jessica Whitehead and Elly Braaten, lead Southern Illinois. Whitehead and Braaten combine for more than 6.5 kills per match, and are both a presence at the net on defense. With such an experienced front line, expect Southern Illinois to play sound, fundamental volleyball and force the Wildcats to play disciplined offense to put away points. Former K-State volleyball assistant coach Justin Ingram coaches the Salukis. From 2001-2008, Ingram was in charge of K-State’s offense and recruiting. Ingram was named the head coach at Southern Illinois in January 2012, and in his first season led the Salukis to their first 20-win season since 2002.

Southeast Missouri State Redhawks

Southeast Missouri State arrives in Manhattan with a record of 2-1. The Redhawks split matches with Mississippi State, and picked up another win against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Senior middle blocker Emily Coon leads Southeast Missouri State. Coon was recently awarded the Maroon Classic MVP, and was named the Ohio Valley Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Week. Coon leads the Redhawks with over 4 kills per match, and adds over a block per match. In The Redhawks season opening tournament, Coon finished with 48 kills, 13 blocks and had a .482 attack percentage. Southeast Missouri State is coached by Julie Yankus. Yankus is in her third year with the Redhawks.

Siena Saints

The Siena Saints (1-2) opened their season at the Hofstra Invitational in Hempstead, New York. The Saints won their season opener against Coppin State, but dropped the next two matches against Hofstra and St. John’s. Freshman setter Haley Howell will look to continue her productive play, as she has posted nearly ten assists per game so far this season. She will work to balance the offense between senior outside hitter Taylor Akana and junior outside hitter Rachel Stoklosa. Akana and Stoklosa power the Saints’ offense, combining to post more than 5.5 kills per match and more than 4.2 digs per match. Look for Siena to ride that 1-2 punch as far as they can. The Saints are coached by Garvey Pierre, who is in his 11th season as the head coach for Siena. Pierre has led his squad to four NCAA Tournament appearances and four MAAC titles.

K-State Wildcats

K-State enters the K-State Invitational with a record of 3-0, after recently winning the UNLV Invitational. K-State recorded wins over Cal State Fullerton, UNLV, and Portland at the tournament. The Wildcats needed five sets in all three wins, but capitalized on their senior leadership, balanced offense and tournament MVP Kaitlynn Pelger. Taylor Johnson and Kersten Kober joined Pelger on the All-Tournament team. Statistically, the Wildcats are very balanced, with five players averaging more than two kills per match. Redshirt freshman setter Katie Brand is orchestrating the offense well, posting nearly 9.5 assists per game this season to go along with two digs per game. Defensively, the Wildcats are anchored by senior libero Tristan McCarty. McCarty, a Manhattan native, leads the Wildcats with over 3.5 digs per game. She has also proven herself to be the vocal leader of the Wildcats.

Head coach Suzie Fritz enters her 13th season with the Wildcats. The two-time Big 12 Coach of the Year, Fritz holds the K-State Volleyball record for wins as a head coach, with 241. Her experience, along with K-State’s six seniors, will be an asset as the Wildcats look to earn an NCAA tournament bid and battle for a Big 12 title.

The competition at the K-State Invitational will be very similar to the competition seen at the UNLV Invitational last weekend. K-State will need to play good defense and continue their balanced offensive attack to win a tournament title in front of their home crowd. Keep an eye on junior middle blocker Taylor Johnson, who only started one match while in Las Vegas, but is currently leading the team in kill percentage. After a week of practice, Fritz may give the starting nod to Johnson. In addition, watch for junior Chelsea Keating, who had eleven kills against Portland and hit nearly .421 in the match. Finally, pay special attention to middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger, who seemed to be just heating up towards the end of last weekend’s tournament. Pelger is coming off back-to-back double-doubles, and posted 19 kills against UNLV in the final match of the tournament.