Keating, Wildcats looking for tournament run in Lincoln

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Senior outside hitter Chelsea Keating smacks the ball on Sept. 8, 2014 at Ahearn Field House. (Rodney Dimick | The Collegian)

On Friday, K-State volleyball team will make its third NCAA Tournament appearance at Nebraska in the last four years.

While they did miss the tournament last season, K-State fans may remember being reunited with the dearly departed-for-the-Big 10 Cornhuskers in the 2011 NCAA tournament. In that tournament, the Wildcats stunned the No. 2 Huskers on their own court.

Even though it was almost four years ago, senior outside hitter Chelsea Keating has very fond memories of K-State’s triumphant return to Lincoln.

“That has been one of my favorite games,” Keating said. “I played a little bit in it, (but) I was a freshman. That was quite an experience, there were a bunch of K-State fans there and it was just a electric place to play and one of my favorite games to play for sure.”

K-State took the match all the way to five sets and shocked the Big Red faithful that packed the gym while delighting the contingent of K-State fans who made the trip.

“No one expected us to win that game at all,” Keating said. “There were so many Nebraska fans that had leis (because the next round was in Hawaii). It was a complete shocker and a complete upset and I think (head coach Suzie Fritz) was so proud.”

Now it’s a different team with red as it’s primary color that is blocking the Wildcats way to a anticipated rematch of old conference foes.

No. 20 Utah is coming off a magnificent stretch where it won seven of its last eight games with five of those wins coming against teams that are also in the NCAA Tournament.

In 2012, K-State was placed in a very similar situation except it was Northern Iowa that stood in K-State’s way of more tournament success.

Then, due to injuries and a poor showing on the road, K-State stayed home that December and looked to next year with, possibly, some trepidation.

Head coach Suzie Fritz knew a tough task was ahead of K-State to get back on track for the 2014 season, especially with the crop of young players that would make up the majority of the team’s makeup.

“If you would have asked our team months ago ‘Hey, how do you feel about this particular year,’ I think they all would have told you that they were very concerned,” Fritz said. “We’re a completely different team 9 months later and that is a tribute to how they have worked.”

That different team finished 22-8 on the year and found their way into the top 20 for several weeks throughout the season.

Keating said that part of that success came from just trying to disprove the doubters.

“I think we definitely had a chip on our shoulder this year,” Keating said. “We were kind of mad about how people were overlooking us and that definitely played a huge part in our success.”

That success has led them to their goal of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. It’s a place that has been visited 14 times before this year in school history. Fritz, who is coaching in her ninth NCAA tournament with K-State, said it’s the team’s selflessness and commitment to the group that has brought them to this point.

“They’re in it together,” Fritz said. “They’re not about individuals. They understand they need each other to be successful. They care about each other, they genuinely care about each other. In regards of character, you couldn’t ask for a better group of women.”

Keating said that no matter if Friday is her last day in a K-State uniform or they make a run in the tournament, the future is bright for the Wildcats. It’s also a future she helped build.

“This is just the beginning for the next four or five years of K-State volleyball,” Keating said. “There is a bunch of talent that is coming up this experience for them is going to be so great.”

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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.