K-State volleyball has the pieces but lacks experience

Sophomore setter Katie Brand sets the ball on Sept. 16, 2014 at Ahearn Field House. (Rodney Dimick | The Collegian)

The old adage says, “If you don’t know history, you’re doomed to repeat it.” While you’ll find educated folks far and wide who will debate the accuracy of that sentiment, it’s still a phrase that is staring the K-State volleyball team right down the nose.

In the 2013 season, K-State ran through nonconference play with a 12-1 record going into Big 12 play. The Wildcats were senior-led and coming off two straight trips to the NCAA tournament. Expectations were high.

However, K-State then stumbled through conference play – winning only six matches the rest of the season.

Granted, the Wildcats became injury plagued down the stretch. But, in the end, the 2013 season was not one to remember for the purple-clad faithful here in the Little Apple.

This season, K-State once again went nearly unblemished through nonconference play, ending with a 13-1 record going into its conference opener against Baylor this weekend.

This squad, however, is very different than the one that trotted out onto Terina Irsik Memorial Court in Ahearn Field House last season.

Head Coach Suzie Fritz knew that with a roster of 20 players that featured 14 underclassmen, senior or even junior leadership might be in short supply.

What some might not have seen coming is not only have the underclassmen played, they’ve taken ownership on the court.

The top three scorers for this K-State team are underclassmen. Two of those underclassmen put on the purple and white for the first time this year.

Mississippi State sophomore transfer outside hitter Brooke Sassin and true freshman outside hitter Kylee Zumach have been nothing short of amazing so far for this K-State squad. They have combined for 340 of K-State’s 692 kills this season.

Zumach was just named Big 12 Rookie of the week for the third week in a row, which has never been done by a K-State player. It doesn’t end with the rookie of the week award either, as no Wildcat has ever won any weekly award three weeks in a row.

The closest the program has come was in 2001, when three separate Wildcats won player of the week honors in consecutive weeks.

Zumach and Sassin are in the top 10 in the Big 12 for overall kills. K-State is one of only three schools, including Baylor and Texas Tech, to have multiple players in the top 10 and the duo is the youngest.

Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Katie Reininger’s game is also rising as she has proven herself not only to be a formidable offensive force with a spike that could take your head off, but one of the best defensive players in the Big 12. As of right now, she leads the Big 12 in total blocks with 62 and is fifth in blocks per set with 1.35.

Added to that, they have one of the best setters in the business in redshirt sophomore Katie Brand, who is second overall in the Big 12 in assist per set with 11.42.

Sassin, Reininger and Zumach can only hit them as well as Brand can deal them and right now this Wildcat team is in sync with each other.

There are some unanswered questions that loom over this team performance, which thus far has been a “Sherman’s March to the Sea” level of domination with seven sweeps in their 13 total wins.

While K-State’s competition hasn’t been bad, sweeping big-name schools like Michigan and Arkansas, they haven’t beaten anyone necessarily impressive. The only ranked team K-State has played thus far is a currently No. 18 Arizona. That bunch of Wildcats swept K-State in Green Bay to begin the season.

There isn’t any doubt that this young Wildcat team has grown leaps and bounds in terms of skills and just overall team chemistry, but this K-State team is still unproven.

Nearly anyone can sweep the South Dakota’s of the world. Is this K-State ready to step up and play high-quality opponents week after week? Can they hack it with No. 2 Texas, who continues to be dominate? Can this young team head east and snuff out No. 23 Kansas?

Will they prove that they deserve to be the first ranked K-State team since Nov. 2012? Only time will tell.

This is a K-State team who is precocious and has something to prove. Regardless of how this Big 12 season goes, K-State fans are in for several years of solid, exciting volleyball.

Tim Everson was born in Wichita, KS in 1994. Before fifth grade he moved up to Manhattan for one year before settling in Riley, KS where he graduated from Riley County High School in 2012. Tim has worked for the Collegian since spring of 2014 and took over as Sports Editor during the summer of 2015. Tim loves sports, music, movies and good food when he can get it.