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Russia trip gave Wildcats head start

Nicolas Wahl

By A Contributor

The Kansas State volleyball team opened fall camp last week, but for the Wildcats, the season really got started earlier this summer when they traveled to Russia for the World University Games.

The grueling 12-day trip to Russia that matched the Wildcats against tough international completion — playing six matches in seven days — is a head start not many teams experience.

It was especially key for a quartet of returning senior starters set to lead K-State into the 2013 season.

When the Wildcats boarded a plane bound for Kazan, Russia, they did so as part of the first group of American athletes to represent the United States at the University Games in Russia in more than 30 years.

K-State head coach Suzie Fritz said that despite a little shakeup to the offseason training schedule, because of the Russia trip, only positives can come from competing against elite International competition.

“There are a few things that have limited what we’ve been able to do,” Fritz said Wednesday during the Wildcats’ media day gathering at Ahearn Field House. “At the same time, six matches in seven days against elite level, professional competition is something that you cannot simulate here.

“The experience of being able to train for a period of time leading up to that was invaluable.”

Kansas State senior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger was named to the Preseason All-Big 12 team.

Pelger echoed her coach.

“We went over and played some of the best players we’ll ever see,” said Pelger, who had a team-high 361 kills last season. “I just think it was a great opportunity and prepared us for what we’re going to see coming into the season.” Pelger said that despite the language barrier in Russia the Wildcats were able to learn much by the example of their older, more seasoned foes.

“We actually talked to the Chinese team after we played,” Pelger said. “But we didn’t even really have to talk to them. Just by watching them play we could see what we needed to work on, and do better on the court.”

Pelger joins five other seniors this season for the Wildcats, including returning starters Lilla Porubek, Dakota Kauffman, Courtney Traxson and former Manhattan High standout Tristan McCarty. In all, 10 letterwinners are back for a KState team that was 21-9 a year ago — including 88 in the Big 12. The Wildcats, who are picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 this season, advanced to the NCAA tournament for the ninth time in 12 years.

“It’s all spread out to be honest,” McCarty said of the veteran leadership in 2013. “Each of us has something different that we bring, but that doesn’t mean that we’re set in those roles. We’re all versatile leaders.”

One new face for the Wildcats is redshirtfreshman Katie Brand, who was tabbed as the Big 12’s Preseason Big 12 Freshman of the Year. The Grand Island, Neb., native replaces departed All-Big 12 setter Caitlyn Donahue.

“I feel pretty strongly that she’s ready to go,” Fritz said.“She’s going to have some freshman moments, but you won’t find a harder worker. You won’t find anybody who wants to serve her team more than Katie Brand.”

Brand isn’t letting the preseason accolades go to her head, nor does she see it as a burden.

“I don’t think it puts any extra pressure on me,” she said. “ I’m just going to come in and try to be the best setter I can be for this team, and the honors are just an extra benefit.”

The Wildcats open their season on the road Aug. 30 at the UNLV Invitational in Las Vegas. KState’s first home action will be Sept. 6 during the K-State Invitational at Ahearn Field House.

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