It’ll be a Kansas State volleyball homecoming Saturday night when the Wildcats (14-6, 2-5 Big 12) host Texas (14-2, 7-0) for a 7:30 pm match at Ahearn Field House.
Nine members of the 2003 squad that earned the school’s lone Big 12 championship will be on hand and recognized following the second set of the match.
K-State head coach Suzie Fritz remembers that 2003 team as a model for other Wildcat squads to emulate.
“What I remember most is what great human beings they were,” Fritz said. “They were wonderful, terrific citizens, wonderful teammates, unbelievable students.
“(Assistant coach) Jeff (Grove) reminded me that they won like seven five-gamers to win that championship, so there was something special to them.”
Former Wildcat Vali Hejjas, who was named 2003 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and just wrapped a pro career in France, is excited to be back in Manhattan to reunite with her college teammates.
Hejjas is in town with current K-Stater Lilla Porubek’s mother from Hungary with whom she was a beach volleyball teammate.
“Some of them I haven’t seen since 2006, so that will be a very emotional moment,” Hejjas said. “Coming back to the ‘States, I’m always very excited. It gave me so much, and I learned so much about myself here.”
K-State was hoping to be riding a little momentum heading into the match after a three-set win over Texas Tech a week ago. But an uncharacteristically high-error performance Wednesday at Baylor spoiled any chance to mount a small winning streak heading into the match with the Big 12 favorite Longhorns.
The Wildcats, who have worked hard to find an offensive balance to compliment their usually sound defensive play, let the little things haunt them during their midweek road trip against the Bears.
“We play within a system,” Fritz said. “But we were playing too individually. I take full responsibility for letting those bolts get lose. There were too many times, both offensively and defensively where we were not seeing and responding together.”
The balance was there offensively — outside hitters Courtney Traxson and Dakota Kaufman led K-State with 14 and 13 kills, respectively. Senior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger had nine kills and chipped in with five assists, while freshman setter Katie Brand had 38 assists.
But the Wildcats committed 21 total non-attack errors. That is the most they’ve had in Big 12 play and Fritz knows they’ll have to regain focus with a team the quality of Texas coming to town.
“Clearly there is a significant challenge when you have a team as physical as Texas coming to town,” Fritz said. “So, the margin for error is very small against a team that good.”
Texas brings to the table a team more complete than perhaps any that has ventured inside Ahearn in recent memory. The Longhorns are tops in conference in both hitting percentage (.313) and opponent hitting percentage (.161).
Individually, Texas boasts the Big 12’s top attacker in outside hitter Bailey Webster who averages 4.08 kills per set in conference play. Haley Eckerman joins her in the Top 10 at 3.5 kills per set.