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Cats to open NCAA tourney in Lincoln

By Brady Bauman

The Kansas State volleyball team experienced some deja vu Sunday afternoon at Colbert Hills for the 2012 NCAA Tournament Selection Show.

Not only are the Wildcats in the post-season for the second straight year, but once again, K-State will be traveling back to Lincoln, Neb.

The Wildcats (21-8, 8-8 Big 12) will take on Northern Iowa (24-9, 15-3 MVC) Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in Nebraska Coliseum.

K-State began last season’s Sweet 16 run on the Cornhuskers’ home floor. There, the Wildcats swept Wichita State in the first round and then upset Nebraska — which was then ranked No. 2 in the country — to move on to the field of 16, where K-State lost to Pepperdine in Hawaii.

This year, the setup is similar. The Wildcats will again open the tournament against a Missouri Valley Conference team and if they win, will once again have a shot to upset the Cornhuskers — this time ranked No. 4 — on their home court.

Of course, that is as long as Nebraska takes care of business with its opening-round matchup against Maryland-Eastern Shore.

“I’m not surprised,” K-State head coach Suzie Fritz told reporters after the Wildcats’ bid was announced Sunday. “I think it’s a pretty difficult draw. I think it’s a very difficult first-round match-up with Northern Iowa and right now that’s the only (match) I care about.”

While the Wildcats began the season 12-0 and a national ranking as high as 11th, the Big 12 season has been a tougher go for KSU, who finished 8-8 in conference play Saturday night after a loss to Oklahoma in Ahearn Field House. The loss to the Sooners was K-State’s third straight. The Wildcats entered the match ranked 25th.

“To some degree we’ve put ourselves in this position over the last several weeks,” Fritz said about the Cats’ position in the tournament. “We say this all the time, that we divide our season into four distinct segments. In the preseason (or non-conference season) we did a tremendous job. In the first half of the (conference) season we did a pretty decent job. We didn’t take care of the second half of the Big 12 season, which is our third segment, but now we have a do-over, if you will, going into the fourth segment, which is post-season play.

“So, you can win 20 matches, you can lose 20 matches, but it doesn’t really matter. Once you get to this point, now you’re playing one at a time. I think what (athletic director) John (Currie) said is right, when he says all you are trying to do is to be 1-0, then 1-0 again. That’s the philosophy we’ll have going into it. We’ll put everything we have into Northern Iowa.”

Fifth-year senior Kathleen Ludwig, who led K-State with 12 kills in the loss to OU Saturday, said she is excited to see post-season action again, and that she is looking at this chance as a fresh one, despite the similarities to last year.

“We’re so excited to get another opportunity to compete,” she said. “We’ve worked really hard to get to this point and we are very optimistic and excited to get better and to make another run this year. But, right away, it’s about Northern Iowa, first and foremost. We just need to do what we need to do to get that win, and if that happens, we’ll do what we need to do to get Nebraska.

“But I don’t think we’re trying to think about anything that happened last year. This is a new season and it’s a new team. But we are excited. We’ve been in that gym before. It’s not too far away. It’s nice. But we look at it as if it’s a new season. We’re starting over again. It’s about trying to be 1-0. ”

Big 12 in the tourney

For the fourth year in a row, the Big 12 has sent at least five teams to the NCAA tournament. Texas, Iowa State, Kansas and Oklahoma will join the Wildcats in the tournament, with three teams hosting a regional.

Texas, who won the conference with a 15-1 mark, was announced as the No. 3 seed in the tournament and will host Colgate. Iowa State — who gave the Longhorns their first loss over the weekend in Ames — is the 15th seed and will host IPFW (Indiana/Purdue University in Fort Wayne). The Jayhawks, who finished strong in conference play with a 12-4 record and third place finish in the Big 12 behind the Cyclones, were rewarded with a No. 11 seed. KU will play Cleveland State in Lawrence. The Sooners, who finished fourth in the conference with a 10-6 record, were an at-large selection like KSU and will take on Arizona State in the regional hosted by BYU, who was seeded No. 12 in the tournament.

Unlike the basketball tournament, only 16 teams are seeded. While there are still 64 teams in the tournament overall, 16 regional sites are chosen instead of just four in basketball. This is done in volleyball due to travel cost considerations for teams. The top 16 teams are seeded, and those schools each get to host the first and second rounds. The rest of the field is chosen as at-large bids and are assigned to regional sites based on location.

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