After 13 preseason matches, the K-State Volleyball team finally opens up its Big 12 schedule with West Virginia today. The Wildcats, 12-1, have only had one hiccup in the road thus far – a loss to Santa Clara at the Cal Invitational. On Tuesday, K-State also lost an exhibition match against the Italian U-23 National team, but the game did not count towards the Wildcats’ record.
The Italian team was polished and aggressive, and the match was invaluable in terms of getting reps against talented competition. Although the Wildcats lost 3-2, the experience of playing a team of that caliber will certainly pay dividends moving forward. This is the second best preseason K-State has put together under head coach Suzie Fritz and has been the most successful preseason road team in over 20 years. The Wildcats have four road wins this season, matching the mark set by the 1988 Wildcats. K-State hopes to add another win to that tally as they fly east to Morgantown, West Virginia to take on the Mountaineers. Here’s a preview of West Virginia and what to expect from the K-State Wildcats.
The Mountaineers begin Big 12 play much like the Wildcats. West Virginia is 13-1, with their only loss coming at the hands of Duquesne. West Virginia opened the season on a 10 match win streak and have won seven straight at home. The Mountaineers success begins with freshman outside hitter Jordan Anderson. Anderson is averaging over four kills per set, which is good for second in the Big 12. She also adds nearly three digs per set. Anderson was named Big 12 Rookie of the Week in back-to-back weeks. While Anderson does post outstanding stats, her swing percentage of .191 should be a big question mark against a K-State defense notorious for rattling offenses. Sophomore setter Brittany Sample orchestrates the West Virginia offense and averages over ten assists per set. She also is third on the team in total digs.
The West Virginia defense has been the anchor so far this season for the Mountaineers. WVU averages 2.6 blocks per set, and holds opposing hitters to a hitting average of .137, which is good for top-ranked team in the Big 12. As a team, they average just over 15 digs per set.
Jill Kramer coaches the Mountaineers and is in her fourth season. Heading into the game against K-State, Kramer has put together an overall record of 43-57. She was previously an assistant at Alabama, Virginia and University of Texas-San Antonio. She also served as an assistant to the USA Junior National Team.
The Wildcats and Mountaineers have only faced each other twice before. Both times came in 2012, which was West Virginia’s inaugural year in the Big 12. K-State won both times and swept WVU in the most recent match, which was played on Oct. 24, 2012.
Interestingly enough, West Virginia was ranked last by the Big 12 coaches in the Big 12 preseason polls.
K-State rolls into Morgantown, W.VA playing some of their best volleyball of the season. Offensively, the Wildcats have been consistent with their balanced approach. Redshirt freshman setter Katie Brand has done a marvelous job spreading the ball around, and has been integral in keeping defenses off balance. Two of Brand’s favorite targets have been senior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger and senior outside hitter Dakota Kaufman. Combined, those two have accounted for nearly five kills per set, and both swing at a high percentage. Even with a stout offensive attack, it has been the defense that has been the storyline of late for the Wildcats. As a team, K-State is holding opposing hitters to a combined .152 hitting percentage, good for second in the Big 12. The Wildcats also average 2.81 blocks per set, which is good for first in the Big 12 and 14th in the NCAA.
For Fritz, the approach hasn’t changed much in her 13 years at K-State: play sound, fundamental volleyball and put yourself in the right position to be successful. So far this season, the Wildcats have done just that. As K-State enters Big 12 play, the competition will certainly improve, but if the Wildcats can stay consistent and force teams to play out of their comfort zone, it could be a year to remember. The Wildcats’ motto for this season has been “Breath, Believe, Battle,” and so far, they are doing just that. To continue winning matches and fight for a conference championship, K-State will need to continue to mesh as a unit and play like they have so far this season.