Hurricane Invitational Provides a Challenge for the Wildcats

K-State setter Katie Brand passes overhand to her team during the first match of the game against KU on Nov. 12, 2014. K-State was swept by KU 3-0. (George Walker | The Collegian)

With the 2015 volleyball season driving into gear, K-State heads down to South Beach for the Miami Hurricanes Invitational Tournament for the first three matches of the season.

K-State will play one game on Friday against Florida A&M and will play Illinois State Saturday afternoon followed by the University of Miami in the evening.

The Wildcats have been eager to start their season off and show what kind of team they are.

“We’re really excited,” junior setter Katie Brand said. “When you first go play another opponent, they really expose your weaknesses. We want to see how well we can figure another team out and not just ourselves everyday.”

With the Purple and White Scrimmage on Friday Night and the weeks of team practices, the Wildcats have been able to improve their offensive efficiency and consistency. Though they have only four juniors and the rest of the team consists of freshmen and sophomores, K-State’s expectations are still as high as ever.

“I have high expectations all the time,” head coach Suzie Fritz said. “I think we have to consistently exceed them.”

Sophomore outside hitter Kylee Zumach said she believes that with their athletic ability and scrappiness on the court, they can overpower any team in the tournament.

“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people,” Zumach said. “We’re a super athletic team. We’re really springy, we work hard and we’re really scrappy.”

GAME 1: Florida A&M

The Rattlers come into the Hurricane Invitational with a mindset of erasing last year’s disappointing memories.

After posting a record of 9-1 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Florida A&M fell short to Howard 2-3 in the MEAC tournament semi-final. The Rattlers ended their season with a 13-15 record and did not obtain the NCAA tournament automatic bid awarded to the MEAC tournament champion.

Sophomore outside hitter, Pamela Soriano, earned MEAC Rookie of the Year in 2014, as well as a spot on the Dominican Republic World Under 23 national team that competed in the 2015 International Federation for Volleyball Championship in Turkey this past month, who won the bronze medal.

Soriano averaged 4.25 kills per set off of 408 total kills in 2014, earning her a spot on the All-MEAC First Team.

As one of five seniors on the roster, middle blocker Ginna Chavez-Lopez returns to the team after producing 181 kills and blocking 91 balls in 2014. Those stats were enough to award her with a first team all-conference ballot award last season.

Returning veterans for the Florida A&M will give K-State an early test, as the Rattlers have their eyes on obtaining a postseason invite.

First serve between Florida A&M and the Wildcats is Friday, Aug. 28th at 4:00 p.m.

Game 2: Illinois State

Redbird Nation was celebrating all season long in Normal, Illinois finishing with an overall record of 27-6. ISU won the regular season and tournament championship in the Missouri Valley Conference earning a 21-0 record in conference play.

Invited to the NCAA tournament in 2014, Illinois State upset Marquette in the first round 3-2 before falling to fourth ranked Wisconsin in the second round 3-0.

However, the Redbirds will not be the same team they were in 2015. They lost six seniors from 2014, including MVC Player of the Year Kaitlyn Early.

Sophomore middle hitter Jaelyn Keene and senior outside hitter Ashley Rosch will be the ones to lead the Redbird’s inexperienced team, being the only two players on this year’s roster to have played in all 124 of Illinois State’s sets in last season.

Even with Rosch averaging 3.43 kills per set and Keene averaging 2.94 last season, the Redbirds lack the depth and experience that they had in their historic season a year ago. K-State will have the more experienced group, but like last season, the Redbirds could shock college volleyball once again.

First serve between Illinois State and K-State is Saturday, Aug. 29 at 9:30 a.m.

Game 3: Miami

The tournament host is looking to defend their home court down in South Beach. This match provides an intriguing player to player match-up.

Hurricane setter, Haley Templeton, won the Freshman of the Year Award in 2014 while earning a spot on the Atlantic Coast Conference second team. Templeton averaged 11 assists per set off of 1,143 assists while earning roughly two digs per set on defense.

K-State’s Kylee Zumach came off of a big year last season, earning Big 12 Freshman of the Year and first team all conference. Templeton and Zumach will go head-to-head in this match-up to see which of the two rising players in college volleyball can lead their team to victory.

Miami returns a lot of veteran experience to the team that made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament a year ago. Their defense never makes a win in South Beach easy, holding opponents to an attacking percentage of 18.8%.

While the Hurricanes will look for a championship crowning, K-State is looking to spoil the party and get a quality victory that will help their resume for another postseason bid.

First serve between the Hurricanes and the Wildcats is set for Saturday, Aug. 29 at 6:30 p.m.