For five Kansas State volleyball seniors, Saturday night’s season-finale against Oklahoma will be an emotional one. For Kathleen Ludwig, Caitlyn Donahue, Alex Muff, Kuulei Kabalis and Ali Boehler — who was brought on to the team this year — it will be the final match they will ever play in Ahearn Field House.
The match against the Sooners will begin at 7.
“I think they’ve been incredibly instrumental in the success that we’ve had over the course of the past two, three, four, or, in Ludwig’s case, five years,” Wildcats head coach Suzie Fritz said following Wednesday’s practice. “I think they all bring a wonderful and different dynamic to the culture of our team and our program. I think they are irreplaceable.”
Since last season, the success this group has achieved and the success Fritz praises is something special. This year’s seniors were basically last year’s seniors. K-State graduated just one senior in a year ago at this time in Ashley Kelican, who was more of a role player and saw limited action. Ludwig, Donahue, Muff, and Kabalis — a Hawaii native who transferred to KSU from a Nebraska junior college going into last season — were the nucleus then, just as they are now.
Since the beginning of the 2011 season, Ludwig, an outside hitter, Donahue, the setter, Muff, a middle blocker, and Kabalis, the libero, have led K-State to a 43-18 and 17-13 Big 12 mark. In the postseason last fall, the Wildcats went to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament after defeating No. 2 Nebraska in Lincoln in the second round. In the previous two seasons, K-State managed only a 24-37 combined record and 12-28 conference tally with no postseason appearances.
Currently, the Cats are ranked 25th in the nation and have been as high as 11th. Another post-season appearance looks likely, as selection Sunday is this weekend, also. K-State is 17th in RPI — the second highest RPI in the conference.
“It just doesn’t quite feel real yet,” Ludwig said about senior night. “I’m sure it will eventually. Right now it just feels like we are working in practice and getting ready for the next match.
“But it’s really, really special. I’m looking forward to have another opportunity to compete in Ahearn and to be around my friends, family and fans who have supported us from day one.”
Ludwig admitted the emotions may run high.
“Absolutely, for sure,” she said. “I was getting emotional talking to another (reporter) about it. It’s an everyday commitment that I’ve made with these girls for five years. It’s really, really hard thinking about not being with them everyday and not growing with them anymore, but I know that seniors and I have done everything we’ve possibly can to try and stay in it, improve and to just enjoy the process.
“It’s been very special, and for sure… it’s going to be an emotional night for me.”
Fritz, too, said emotions will run high for her as well and that she is thankful senior night presentations are done after the match is over.
“We (hold it after the match) for that reason,” Fritz said. “It is difficult, emotionally, to think about, from my perspective, what the team is going to be like without them, and for them, that it is likely their last opportunity to play in Ahearn Field House. There are a lot of emotions you are trying to manage on (a senior) night.”
Fritz said the leadership will be missed.
“They all provide something that is special and unique to the team,” Fritz said. “It’s more the collective effort, of what they bring. They all lead in different ways, but all in productive ways.
“I think they’ve given us everything they’ve had, both physically and emotionally. Volleyball has been an important part of their lives and they’ve made it important. They grew as people and as players. They’ve met my expectations, from that perspective, in every way.”
The Wildcats will end the regular season with the team that gave K-State its first loss of the season. OU swept the then 12-0 Cats in September in Norman. The Sooners come into Manhattan 20-10 and 9-6 in league play – a spot better than the Wildcats who are 8-7 in the Big 12. OU also ranks 30th in RPI.