Wounded K-State volleyball team seeks balance vs. OU

By Nicolas Wahl

The Kansas State volleyball team has seen its share of adversity during its tough opening run of Big 12 matches. 

Saturday’s match at Oklahoma will mark the end of a five-game stretch that has pitted the short-handed Wildcats against four of the conference’s top-five teams.

K-State (13-4, 1-3 Big 12) will again be without the services of senior outside hitter Lilla Porubek, who has yet to see action in a Big 12 match this season, as it faces off against the Sooners (14-4, 2-2 Big 12) at 7 p.m. at McCasland Field House in Norman, Okla.

The missing presence of Porubek, a veteran leader and a key offensive cog in the Wildcat attack, has been evident in both the Wildcats’ play, and on the scoreboard. 

K-State head coach Suzie Fritz, said the adversity that the Wildcats have faced lately is just part of the ebb and flow of the season.

“We’re encountering it, in kind of an unusual portion of the season,” Fritz said of the team’s struggle with adversity. “I think some of it does have to do with the competitive nature of the teams that we’re rolling through right now. The other part of it is that we’re still searching a little bit for where we need to put our personnel to give us the best opportunities.”

Much of that searching is no doubt stemming from the absence of Porubek, who ranked second on the team in kills per set (2.33) before going down with an apparent leg injury. Since then, K-State has been looking for balance offensively. 

“I don’t know if it’s one person necessarily,” Fritz said. “Everybody’s got to take on a little bit more. If Katie (Brand) can get us one more kill a game, one more out of (Courtney) Traxson, Taylor (Johnson), Dakota (Kaufman).”

The Wildcats have seen their hitting percentage drop from .193 with Porubek to .134 in her absence.

With opponents able to key on senior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger, Fritz is looking for someone to step in and fill the void in the K-State attack. Pelger has put the offense on her shoulders, raising her kills per set from 2.88 to 3.33 between the nonconference and conference schedules, but that has come at a cost to her efficiency. Her hitting percentage has dropped from 2.88 to 2.14 in conference play.

“I don’t think we’re a team — and no team is — that can ask one player to carry the entire offensive load,” Fritz said. “You have to have balance. You have to distribute the ball in a way that allows hot hitters to stay hot and everybody has to be involved.”

Already a defensively oriented group, the offense sunk to a new low in the loss at Iowa State on Wednesday. K-State was never a factor, and could muster just a .091 hitting percentage, which included an abysmal .025 in the third set of a three-set sweep at the hands of the Cyclones.

Even with the struggles, the Cats haven’t slunk their shoulders.

“We’re a really close-knit group of people,” senior libero Gina Madonia said. “We have the ability to get on each other and help each other out. We’ll get it. It’ll come. We’re really optimistic.”

The Wildcats get another opportunity against Oklahoma, whose only conference losses have come at the hands of Big 12 co-leaders Kansas and No. 3 Texas. Fritz senses a team that is hungry for a win.

“We know what it looks like,” Fritz said. “We know where we need to get to. We’re frustrated, and we’re a little bit ticked off.” 

In the Sooners, Fritz said that K-State will see a team that holds a lot of the qualities they strive for with themselves.

“The mark of an Oklahoma team, in my opinion, is that they are extremely low error,” Fritz said. “They are a frustrating team to play because if they don’t have what they want they aren’t going to give one to you. They are going to dig a bunch of balls and make you play longer enough for you to screw it up.”

Led by senior middle blocker, 2012 All-American, Sallie McLaurin, the Sooners are fourth in the conference in both hitting percentage (.233) and digs per set (15.33) in Big 12 play. McLaurin herself boasts a .416 hitting percentage, which is good enough for second best in the Big 12, and is also in the top 10 in blocks per set (1.13).

Perhaps in good fortune for the Wildcats, the Sooners’ main weakness, opponents hitting percentage, could be an elixir to K-State’s recent offensive woes. Big 12 opponents are hitting .274 against the Sooners, which is next to last in the conference.

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