Friday, November 27, 2015

Bauman: Fritz, Snyder cut from the same cloth

There is no doubt the Kansas State football team has the community in a frenzy these days.

The job head coach Bill Snyder has done is once again reminding the world why the man has had a highway and a stadium named after him.

But he’s not the only coach wearing purple that’s overseeing a special season. K-State volleyball head coach Suzie Fritz is working some magic, too.

The Wildcats are 18-3, 5-3 in the Big 12 and ranked 16th in the country. K-State has been a mainstay in the polls all season, climbing as high as 11th — the highest ranking for the Cats since 2007.

K-State went 12-0 before suffering its first loss on the road against Oklahoma. Of the 18 wins this season, 14 have come by sweep.

Tonight, K-State has a good chance to up that total to 15 as the Wildcats take on a struggling West Virginia team in Morgantown, W.Va., that has yet to win a Big 12 match and is sitting at 8-14 on the year.

Much in the same way Snyder has made a good team last season even better with a roster full of many of the same players, Fritz has kept the momentum from last year’s Sweet 16 appearance alive and well.

Eight returners for this season’s volleyball team played more than 100 sets in 2011. K-State’s lone senior from last season’s roster saw action in just 10 sets.

While both Snyder and Fritz have achieved success so far this season with experienced squads, the true credit goes into how both have kept their respective teams hungry and wanting more.

The football team surprised many with an unknown quarterback in Collin Klein that many thought was one-dimensional and, thus, easy to figure out. Klein proved to be full of surprises and led 10-3 K-State to a top 10 BCS finish and a Cotton Bowl berth a year ago. This season, K-State has the bar set much, much higher, and it is playing that way.

The same can be said for Fritz and the volleyball team.

While many thought last year’s team was too young and lacked senior leadership, the Volleycats improved exponentially throughout the season and finished 22-11 — more than good enough to receive an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. K-State then shocked the volleyball world when it took out Nebraska — the No. 2 team in the land — in the second round on the Cornhuskers’ own floor.

This season, like the football team, Fritz and the Cats expected to improve on last year’s success. And so far, they have. K-State is in the top three in the Big 12 in nearly every statistical category. Like Snyder’s team, the sky’s the limit for the ladies of Ahearn Field House.

But don’t tell that to Fritz, who has led the Volleycats for 12 years after being an assistant for K-State four years prior.

Like Snyder, the past and future are moot points for the Clay Center native. For Fritz, it’s all about the present — the hour, the minute, and the very second. Her mantra is simple, and well known in K-State sports culture.

Work hard, limit mistakes, and worry only about what you can control. No more, and definitely no less.

Rankings, win streaks, what happened the week before, what might happen a week from now… none of that matters to her and she will not hesitate to tell you that none of that matters to her.

One of the great joys of covering K-State volleyball the past two seasons has been observing when another reporter covers the Wildcats for the first time and asks Fritz her thoughts on whatever the team’s ranking is for that week, or how big of a win the previous match was, or, better yet, if she’s being led to make any postseason-type predictions.

No, none of that will work on Fritz, who has led K-State to eight NCAA tournament appearances and its first ever conference title in 2003 — the same year Snyder got his Big 12 championship.

Fritz is the winningest coach in the program’s history with a record of 217-127 (.631), and without her, the Wildcats have an all-time winning percentage just barely over 50 percent.

Like Snyder, she didn’t achieve any of those successes making predictions or speaking in hypotheticals. For both coaches that time is better spent “getting better everyday” — a quote that is heard just as often in Ahearn as it is in the Vanier Football Complex.

While many colleges across the country struggle to find success in just one fall sport, K-State is blessed to have two. For both Wildcat football and volleyball, it starts at the top.


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