Jayhawks a challenge for Wildcats

By Brady Bauman

The excitement is always high anytime Kansas State and Kansas tangle. This season, the first of two meetings for the volleyball edition of the Sunflower Showdown has an extra jolt.

For the first time in the series history both teams are ranked.

The 14th-ranked Wildcats will travel to Lawrence Wednesday night to face the 21st-ranked Jayhawks at 6:30.

K-State goes into the match with a 17-2 record and 4-2 mark in the Big 12. The Wildcats had a bye last Wednesday night and followed the break with a sweep of TCU on the road Saturday.

KU is 17-3 and 5-1 in conference play. The Jayhawks had a six-match win streak going before No. 8 Texas ended it with a sweep in Austin Friday night.

While Kansas was able to beat Oklahoma in Norman — something the Wildcats couldn’t do in September — the Jayhawks have surrendered sets to Creighton, Iowa State and West Virginia — all teams K-State swept.

“We’re preparing like normal,” Wildcats head coach Suzie Fritz said following Monday’s practice. “We spent today focused on things we felt we needed to do better after reviewing our films from over the weekend, but (KU) is a very, very talented team and they are very good at home.

“We’re expecting a battle.”

The Jayhawks are led by junior middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc with 266 kills, who leads the Big 12 in hitting percentage with a .389.

K-State junior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger, in contrast, is third in the league in that category attacking at a .368 clip, but has the advantage over Jarmoc in kills per set at 3.92, which ranks second in the conference.

Jarmoc, however, is right behind Pelger at third with 3.55 kills per set.

Both teams are also led by good setters. KU junior Erin McNorton leads the league in assists with 11.92 per set, while K-State senior Caitlyn Donahue is right behind in second place at 11.84 per set.

The Jayhawks also sport the Big 12’s current dig-leader in defensive specialist, junior Brianne Riley.

“They have two athletic, pretty dynamic left-sides,” Fritz said. “Anytime you can be good on the left you can be good, period. They ball-handle really well and I think their chemistry is really good.

“A lot of times it’s not about what they do well, it’s that they don’t have a lot of glaring weaknesses, and I think that’s because they’ve really matured as a team, maybe from where they were a year ago.”

Still, history is on K-State’s side. The Wildcats have won the last two matches in Lawrence and the last four overall. Since 1995, KSU is 28-4 against the Jayhawks.

Historically, K-State leads the series 62-41-1 since it began in 1974 and the Wildcats are 27-12 all-time in Lawrence. Fritz has a 20-4 record against KU.

“It’s always nice to be able to play in Lawrence,” Donahue said. “Our friends and family in the state can always come by and watch and we always have a huge crowd, but it’s just like any other match in the Big 12.

“They’re a good team and we’re also a very good team. It will be a good match. We’re excited.”

Donahue said the Wednesday bye from last week gave the Wildcats a chance to look in the mirror a bit, instead of breaking down another team.

“We were able to spend a little more time looking at our individual team and getting better at things we needed to get better at,” she said. “There was a little more rest and a little more time to look at ourselves. It was a nice stretch of times to have some rest and to recharge.

“We were able to get a mental break and focus on our individual games and our games as a team.”

Wednesday’s match will also be a battle of two top 15 RPI schools. K-State ranks No. 9 in RPI, while KU currently sits at No. 13.

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