After having a few days to recuperate and get their legs back, the K-State Volleyball team is headed back out on the road to finish off their nonconference slate. Last weekend, the Wildcats were in Berkeley, Calif. participating in the Cal Invitational. K-State went 2-1 during their west coast road trip, picking up a 3-2 win against No. 23 ranked Cal. The Wildcats returned home with the tournament championship and a 9-1 record.
Looking forward, the Wildcats hope to continue their impressive play. Head coach Suzie Fritz and her team will open up play in the Razorback Invitational with Arkansas on Friday evening at 7 p.m. The Wildcats were then scheduled to play a double header on Saturday against Saint Louis and Alabama. However, according to a statement released by the South Alabama athletic department last Thursday, the Jaguars will be unable to compete because of “ … widespread injury and illness throughout the team.” There is no current makeup date scheduled for the game at this time.
While the Wildcats would have benefited from the additional nonconference opponent, a break in action during the weekend could be positive moving forward. K-State will then wrap up their weekend as they drive just a little north to battle Missouri State at 1 p.m. on Sunday. The final preseason road trip will have the Wildcats playing three matches in three days, all against quality opponents. If K-State can return home 12-1 or 11-2, it would be huge positive as the team moves into conference play. Here’s what to expect from the three teams:
The Razorbacks are coming off their first 20-win season and first NCAA tournament birth since 2006. Head coach Robert Pulliza hopes to continue this trend for the current season. Arkansas is currently 6-3, and is looking to continue their impressive nonconference schedule, that has seen them win the Golden Hurricane Classic in Tulsa. Junior Meredith Hays picked up MVP honors while at the tournament. Hayes averages nearly 4.4 kills per set, and had 21 kills against Tulsa in a match last weekend. The Razorbacks will run a 6-2, meaning they will employ two setters, Raymariely Santos and Ashley Vazquez, who record 6.24 and 5.44 assists per game respectively. The last meeting between these two teams was in 2005 and resulted in a 3-0 sweep by the Wildcats. The overall series score is 5-1, with the only loss coming in 1998.
The Billikens arrive at the Razorback Invitational with a record of 4-7. Saint Louis has lost five of their last six, and is still looking to get back on track. One positive from the Billikens five matches a week ago was the solid play of Megan Gilbert. Gilbert, a middle blocker, averaged 1.4 blocks per set and was selected as the Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Week. Offensively, Mallory Dillon and Danielle Rygelski lead Saint Louis. Combined, the two hitters averaged over eight kills per set, adding in over five digs as well. Head coach Kent Miller is in his third season with the Bilikens, and has a record of 25-33. The Wildcats are 6-0 all time against Saint Louis, with the most recent win coming on August 27, 2005.
The Missouri State Bears go into Friday with the best winning percentage of all three weekend opponents. At 8-3, the Bears are fresh off of a 2-1 record at their home tournament, the University Plaza Invitational. Missouri State’s only loss last weekend came from a sweep by the Oklahoma Sooners. Like the Wildcats, the Bears have a balanced attack, with four players averaging more than two kills per set. As a team, Missouri State is hitting an impressive .219 percent. Bears head coach Melissa Stokes, who entered the season with a career record of 373-179, is in her 18th year as the head coach of Missouri State. In the past 10 seasons, the Bears have gone to seven NCAA Tournaments. K-State and Missouri State have matched up 20 times over the years, with the Bears currently leading the series 13-7. However, all 13 of Missouri State’s wins occurred before 1991. The most recent matchup was in 2012, ending in a 3-0 K-State sweep.
The Wildcats seem to be firing on all cylinders after their first ten games. Redshirt freshman setter Katie Brand is fresh off a Big 12 Freshman of the Week award. Brand has posted a team high of six double-doubles, and averages nearly 10 assists per game. Senior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger has picked up two tournament MVP awards, and seems to be one of the better all-around players not only in the Big 12, but in the country. If the offensive attacking can stay consistently balanced and effective, the Wildcats may do some serious damage as they move through their conference schedule. Historically, the Big 12 has been a much more difficult test than K-State’s nonconference schedule, so only time will tell as to how the team will react when the competition gets more tough.