They say home is where the heart is. There’s no other place the Kansas State volleyball team would rather be, either, as the Wildcats get set to host the K-State Invitational this weekend.
It’s been a long time since the Wildcats have played here, especially considering the long summer of workouts and trip to Russia to participate in the World University Games.
K-State, which opened the season last weekend with a three-match sweep of the UNLV Invitational in Las Vegas, is ready to take the court in the friendly confines of Ahearn Field House.
“We’re so ready to be at home and be here with our ‘Purple People,’ K-State coach Suzie Fritz said Wednesday. “We’ve been working incredibly hard and kind of taken the show on the road. Now, one of the rewards for the team is to be able to come home and have the K-State faithful come and support them like they always do.”
K-State (3-0) will open the home tourney on Friday at noon against Missouri State (2-1). The Wildcats will play a Friday nightcap at 7:30 p.m. against Southern Illinois (1-2), followed by a 1 p.m. match on Saturday against Siena.
The Wildcats needed five sets in all three of their matches in Las Vegas to come out winners.
“Bottom line is we found a way to win when it mattered,” Fritz said. “I think that getting into some five-game battles early in the season is good for teams. They get battle tested. We found a way to win and did it three times. That says a lot about what’s inside of them.”
Still, Fritz sees plenty of room for improvement — especially in terms of finding a complete game. Her players agree.
“We’re trying to put everything together this weekend,” said senior Kaitlynn Pelger, who earned MVP honors in Las Vegas. “One game we would have great offense, but not so good defense and the next game it would be the other way around. We need to put it all together and get going.”
Fritz said this team has to do a better job capitalizing on opportunities as the season progresses, especially in free-ball or down-ball situations.
“We need to get more out of our transition offense,” she said. “We’re scrapping and we’re digging balls and we’re playing long rallies, but we need to kill it sooner, quite honestly.”
A big part of K-State’s defensive successes can be attributed to the team’s depth and defense at the net.
As an example, freshman libero Kersten Kober and junior outside hitter Taylor Johnson joined Pelger in receiving all-tournament honors in Las Vegas. Kober tallied 35 total digs in the tournament, while Johnson netted career highs in kills (11) and blocks (eight) in the match against UNLV.
“That’s what is awesome,” Johnson said. “We have a competitive spirit and we want to work hard to make everyone else better. If one person gets sat, we have a faith and belief that their replacement will do just as good of a job as they would have done.”
It’s been a block party for the Wildcats this season, too, as K-State racked up 43 blocks in three matches — including back-to-back matches of 18 and 17. It was the first time the Wildcats have had two games of 17 or more blocks in a season since 2007.
“We frankly don’t work on it a great deal,” Fritz said. “We talk about tactics and some different things, but it is a natural strength for them. It is something they just instinctively do very well.”