Sunday, April 26, 2015



Fritz excited about her young team



One might assume a coach would be a bit trepidacious heading into a season following the exodus of eight seniors from a year ago.

Not so for head coach Suzie Fritz, who enters her 14th year at the Kansas State volleyball helm, leading a young, but talented team into the 2014 season.

“You can’t like them anymore,” Fritz said Monday during the team’s media day at Ahearn Field House. “They make me nuts, and I couldn’t love them anymore. They are so fun to be around and coach.

“They love everything, and I’m not kidding. They love being here, coming to practice. They have not taken a day off.”

It’s a boisterous group made up of seven returning letterwinners, including three starters — senior outside hitter Chelsea Keating, sophomore setter Katie Brand and sophomore libero Kersten Kober — and a group of nine newcomers. Of the Wildcats’ newcomers, six are freshmen, giving K-State a top-30 ranked recruiting class.

“They are so hungry, eager and excited, that it’s hard not to also be excited around them,” Fritz said.

K-State went 18-11 last season, and rode a hot non-conference slate into the Top 25 before dipping to a 6-10 record in the Big 12 — including 0-8 on the road — and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010. 

The Wildcats were picked fifth in the Big 12’s preseason poll earlier this month.

For a team coming off of a senior-laden 2013 that was maddeningly inconsistent at times for Fritz, this new mix adds a freshness to a program that last season found itself mired in monotony.

“We had so many seniors, and so many veterans out there playing,” preseason All-Big 12 setter Brand said. “It gets routine. It never gets boring, but it just becomes the same thing over and over.”

Brand said the youth on the 2014 squad has been keeping the energy and excitement high.

So many new pieces puts an onus on returnees like Keating, a fifth-year senior from Frankfort, to fill vacant leadership roles.

“I kind of took it upon myself,” said Keating, who Fritz affectionately referred to as The Boss. “We have a lot of young girls. So they don’t know really what the expectations are.”

Keating, who tallied 1.52 kills per set and .56 blocks per set last season joins fellow seniors Taylor Johnson (1.95 kills per set, 1.23 blocks per set), and Natali Jones (1.09 kills per set, .94 blocks per set), as well as sophomore Katie Reninger to lead a group of newcomers on the front lines.

They replace a group that included All-Big 12 performer Kaitlyn Pelger.

“Taylor Johnson talked to (former K-State catcher) Blair DeBord at one of the leadership academy meetings,” Fritz said. “He’s made this statement that when (K-State baseball) won the Big 12 championship in 2013, those seniors never said, ‘This is our year.’ They never made it about themselves. I think this volleyball team is that kind of team.

“The seniors don’t think it is about them. It’s about ‘us.’ That’s how you want it to be.”

Brand (10.6 assists per set,  .90 kills per set, .83 blocks per set) returns with a year of experience under her belt at the setter position, as veterans Kober (2.27 digs per set) and senior Gina Madonia (1.73 digs per set), as well as junior Dallas Gardner usher in the new crop of back-line help.

“From just the pure fact of putting (the ball) where it is supposed to go, she is significantly better,” Fritz said of Brand. “That first year of setting is a lot. The window that they get to work — to put that ball in — is just like a quarterback and wide receiver relationship. The window at the collegiate level is so much tighter.”

Brand says she’s ready for the challenge.

“I feel like I have to step up a lot this year, especially vocally,” Brand said. “I’ve always believed in leading by example, and I think that is still a concept that will stick with me, but this year I have to be more vocal as well.”

The Wildcats open play Aug. 29-30 at the Green Bay Tournament in Wisconsin.One might assume a coach would be a bit trepidacious heading into a season following the exodus of eight seniors from a year ago.

Not so for head coach Suzie Fritz, who enters her 14th year at the Kansas State volleyball helm, leading a young, but talented team into the 2014 season.

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