K-State volleyball returns to NCAA tournament

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Women of the K-State volleyball team cheer and clap at the annoucement of their seed in the NCAA tournament at Colbert Hills on Sunday night, Nov. 30, 2014. The WIldcats will play the Utah Utes on Dec. 5 in Lincoln, Neb. (Hannah Hunsinger | The Collegian)

For the 15th time in school history, K-State volleyball is headed to the NCAA Tournament. The program holds a 14-14 overall record in postseason play and a 9-9 record under head coach Suzie Fritz.

With a third-straight tournament trip to Lincoln, Nebraska upcoming to take on Utah (19-12, 9-11 in the Pac-12) on Friday, the Wildcats (22-8, 9-7) look forward to wiping the slate clean in postseason competition.

“We’re thrilled,” Fritz said of her team after missing last season’s tournament. “Anytime you get a chance to be in the tournament and be one of 64 teams still playing volleyball in December you’ve got to be excited about it. No matter what’s happened to this point, everything starts all over. We like the opportunity.”

Senior outside hitter Chelsea Keating, one of the few veterans on this young K-State team, has made both of the previous trips to Lincoln, which included the Wildcats’ stellar upset of then No. 2 Nebraska in 2011.

“(Coach Fritz) had us raise our hands earlier of who hasn’t gone to a tournament before and we have quite a few people who haven’t,” Keating said. “Being familiar with (the tournament) will be nice having some experience in postseason play. It will help.”

Keating will be a crucial part in leading a team that has seen a bulk of its contributions from the trio of sophomores Brooke Sassin and Katie Reininger and freshman Kylee Zumach. None of those three women have ever seen competition past November.

“It was so exciting,” Reininger said of when K-State was announced. “You’re just waiting on that little ticker to flip and see your name. We knew we were coming next. It was awesome, just that little rush of adrenaline and excitement.”

The road to the tournament

These were the key matches that helped this young K-State team get back into the post-season.

1. Sept. 6 vs. UCF

Maybe it didn’t seem as important at the time, but K-State’s early sweep of the Knights at the Wildcat Invitational looks much better now. UCF (25-7, 18-2 in the American Athletic Conference) blazed through conference play and won the title.

2. Oct. 1 at Kansas

A win against a rival on the road is always big, but consider this: the Wildcats were fresh off a bad five-set loss at home to Baylor that snapped a 11-match win streak. K-State fell behind 0-2 in Lawrence and showed a key aspect that this team has displayed all year, resiliency. That led to a win over now 16th-seeded Kansas (22-8, 10-6 in Big 12).

3. Oct. 8 vs. Iowa State

K-State was able to continue a three-year streak of protecting its home court after Iowa State had won the previous four matches in Ahearn Field House. Iowa State (18-9, 10-6) was picked as a tournament team and splitting the series this season against them was a great resume builder for the Wildcats.

4. Oct. 22 vs. Oklahoma

After having some success and being ranked early in the season, Oklahoma (20-10, 10-6) came into Manhattan and got swept. That is not why they are on this list. The Sooners answered the adversity in Ahearn Field House and turned around and knocked off No. 2 Texas in Austin, which led to a national ranking and an eventual NCAA Tournament berth.

5. Nov. 7 at Texas

Maybe K-State wasn’t in the mood to accept a moral victory after its loss to the Longhorns, however, an important distinction came from the trip to Austin. The Wildcats had lost 15-straight sets to Texas (23-2, 15-1). K-State was able to snap that trend and win one set against the conference champion and the No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

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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.