MANHATTAN — The rolling, dry-erase board next to the court at Ahearn Field House details each day’s Kansas State volleyball practice. On it, plays are drawn in Xs and Os, and drills are laid out to the minute.
But at the top, in the middle, is a spot reserved for something else — inspirational quotes, one after another, provided by the players themselves.
Tuesday’s quote, author unknown: “They talked in terms of what they were trying to create and how they were trying to improve relative to an absolute standard of excellence.”
And with that, you have the Wildcats in a nutshell – ranked No. 19 and off to the school’s best start at 9-0 headed into Thursday’s Hurricane Invitational at Tulsa.
The Wildcats open against Tulsa, play No. 10 Minnesota on Friday and close with No. 20 Dayton on Saturday.
“I’m ready for that next-level challenge, if you will,” said K-State coach Suzie Fritz, in her 12th season. “I think our team needs it. We’ve had some success and certainly that breeds some confidence, but we need to be careful about feeling like we’ve arrived.”
The argument could be made that K-State arrived at the end of last season, when the Wildcats upset two-time NCAA champion Nebraska on the way to the third NCAA regional semifinal in school history, matching the 2001 and 2003 teams.
Every starter off last year’s team is back, including 6-foot-2, All-Big 12 middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger, a junior from Olathe South who was named College Volleyball Update’s national player of the week on Tuesday. Pelger had double-doubles in kills and blocks in wins over Missouri State and Utah State.
“It’s such a great feeling to know that we’re good, to be where we expected to be,” Pelger said. “We’ve had some challenges so far, but this weekend is an even greater challenge. We’re ending with some great teams and matches going into Big 12 play.”
All-Big 12 outside hitter Lilla Porubek leads the Wildcats with 100 kills. Middle blocker Alex Muff, a 6-1 senior from Concordia, is one of K-State’s career leaders in blocks. Setter Caitlyn Donahue, a 5-10 senior from Blue Valley West, finished second in the Big 12 in assists in 2011.
But it’s Pelger who can go through all six rotations.
“At times (Pelger) is really good, but I think she can be better,” Fritz said. “We ask her to do a lot, and even though she’s very much an offensive player, I’d like to see her improve in her defensive responsibilities.”
K-State opens Big 12 play next Wednesday at Oklahoma.
“We’ve only really got three practices before that first Big 12 match,” Fritz said. “I feel like we need to start making better attacking choices. You can’t always avoid the block at this level because they’re too big, too skilled.”