The Kansas State volleyball team has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success the last seven seasons.
Seven consecutive seasons of at least 19 wins, including hitting the 20-win plateau in six of the last seven years. Seven consecutive postseason appearances, including a school-record six straight bids to the NCAA Tournament. Four consecutive appearances in the final AVCA/USA Today Top 25 poll. The team has also ended the year ranked in the organization¹s Top 25 in five of the last six seasons.
In that span, Kansas State has produced three All-Americans Dawn Cady and Liz Wegner (twice) five all-district selections and 14 All-Big 12 honorees. In fact, eight of the 10 first team all-conference selections in school history have come since 1996, including a pair of multiple honorees, Val Wieck and Liz Wegner. The success has endured through three different head coaches, first Jim Moore, then Jim McLaughlin and now, in her second-year, Suzie Fritz.
However, the success of the program like that of countless others has in part been sustained by its ability to adjust to the loss of its star players. Teams in the past have found a way to alter their style of play to replace the now legendary stars of Ahearn Field House, names like Kate DeClerk, the Wildcats¹ inaugural All-Big 12 selection and the first player to be named to an all-conference first team in eight years, to Val Wieck and Kim Zschau to Dawn Cady and Kelle Branting.
The good news for the current Wildcats is that the team that had to replace an impact player did better than the squad that included the player. The 1999 team that had to deal with the loss of Zschau and Wieck improved both their overall win total and ranking in the conference and nationally, while the 2000 squad advanced to the Sweet 16 after the departure of the school's first All-American Dawn Cady.
Now the Wildcats must do the same in 2002, as the program has to adjust to loss of four-year starters, two-time All-American Liz Wegner and fellow all-conference selection Lisa Mimick. Wegner left the program, as arguably its greatest player with over 20 school records to her credit, including career marks for kills and total attacks. Mimick, a talented defensive player with over 1,000 digs to her credit, was the one of the team's emotional leaders throughout her four-year career.
"We will not replace Liz, Lisa and Jayne (Christen), said Fritz." "They will always be special because they were our very first recruiting class here at Kansas State. Our team will be different without their presence, but we will have people step up to fill the void."
Kansas State must deal with the loss of these standout players with just one 'true' senior and six newcomers, including four freshmen. The Wildcats return three starters and eight letterwinners overall from a team that posted a 20-8 overall record and 15-5 mark in Big 12 Conference play in 2001. The team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year where it lost to eventual Final Four participant Nebraska.
In 2002, the team's strength lies in the areas of serving and passing, as the Wildcats return more than 94 percent of their assists and 68 percent of their aces. The squad also brings back 65 percent of their dig total from a year ago.
The team's perceived weakness lies in the loss of its two most effective outside hitters (Wegner and Mimick), who accounted for nearly 44 percent of the team's offense in 2001. In all, the team returns just 44 percent of their offense and 40 percent of their points scored. The team also lost the team's leader in nearly all blocking categories, Jayne Christen, who ranked sixth in the Big 12 Conference with a 1.20 blocks per game average.
"The team continues to develop their own identity and key leadership continues to emerge," said Fritz, who set a school-record for winning percentage by a first-year head coach with a .714 percentage. "We will be youthful in that Jenny (Pollard) is our only true senior, but this is not an inexperienced team. They have fought some battles together and had a tremendous spring. Their preparation began months ago and they have done the necessary work to be successful."
"Jenny has developed into a very nice all-around volleyball player," said Fritz. "She helps our team in countless ways with her ability to pass, defend, attack and block. She has a steady, unyielding presence and is a constant in her ability to not make a lot of mistakes."
Although technically not a starter with just 20 appearances and five starts in 2001, junior Cari Jensen brings quality experience at the outside hitter position after averaging 4.00 kills per game in 27 matches and 26 starts as a true freshman in 2000. Jensen, who saw her kill total drop from 374 as a freshman to just 94 as a sophomore, saw her playing time diminish with the solid threesome of Wegner, Mimick and Pollard last season. However, she still made the most of her time by averaging 2.47 kills per game in just 38 games played. She has 14 career double-doubles and 26 matches of 10 or more kills.
"Cari has put her time in and has developed into a fantastic outside attacker," said Fritz. "She has developed range to add to her already terminal nature. She figured a lot out last spring and is capable of being one of the best outside hitters in the league."
A late summer transfer from Division II Northern Michigan, sophomore Michaela Franklin has the ability and talent to feel the void at outside hitter. A native of Lincoln, Neb., Franklin saw action in all 32 matches for the Wildcats with 20 starts and 121 games played. She ranked second on the team in total kills (421) and kills per game (3.48) and registered 24 double-digit kill performances, including 21 of the team's last 23 matches.
"Michaela is a gifted athlete," said Fritz. "She has a strong arm and possesses the ability to get on the ball. She is a terminal attacker and will work to develop range and become a more complete player."
The rest of the depth at outside hitter comes in the form of three players that have never touched floor in an actually game situation.
Katie Stanzel redshirted her freshman year after a stellar four-year career at Marian High School in Omaha, Neb. The 2000 Gatorade Circle of Champions Player of the Year for the state of Nebraska will look to contribute after learning the system.
"Katie's strongest asset is her work ethic," said Fritz. "She has all the talent and desire to become a great volleyball player."
A heralded true freshman out of Council Bluffs, Iowa, Jaime Perkins was a four-year starter and four-year member of the Omaha World Herald All-Western Iowa team out of Thomas Jefferson High School.
"I liken her to Lisa Mimick," said Fritz. "If you ask her what she loves to do, she loves to dig balls. I think she'll have an opportunity to challenge early because of her skill level."
Goehring, a former member of the Junior National team, was the team's best all-around player in 2001, as she averaged 2.12 kills per game on .255 hitting with 0.35 aces per game, 2.44 digs per game and 1.04 blocks per game as a sophomore. She paced the squad with 37 service aces, including a 0.35 per game average, and was second on team in blocks. A strong, effective hitter, she overcame a slow start to the season by tallying a hitting percentage of .300 or better in 12 matches, including 10 in the team's last 15 contests.
"Lauren had a breakthrough spring, and will share some of the leadership responsibility as a returning junior," said Fritz. "She is starting to come into her own and I believe that this year will be a very exciting one for her. Lauren does so many things for our team, in that, she cannot only block and attack at a high level, but that she is also a great backrow defender and passer."
Sophomore Lisa Martin will see a significant role after seeing limited action last season with just one start in 10 matches played. However, she played a crucial role in the Wildcats' five-game win over Missouri on Sept. 26 with a season-best six kills on .600 hitting with team-best six blocks.
"Lisa has the athletic ability and prowess to accomplish whatever she desires," said Fritz. She is an extremely competitive and this fall will be an opportunity for her to showcase her talents."
Two freshman Joy Hamlin and Molly Lindquist could also see time during the year Hamlin, at 6-foot-3 the team's tallest player, was a three-year starter at Winfield High School in Douglass, Kan. and a two-time all-state selection. Lindquist, a walk-one from Manhattan High, was a three-sport standout in volleyball, basketball and soccer. She turned down several soccer scholarships to walk-on at K-State.
"Gabby stepped into a difficult role as a starting freshman last year and did a nice job of running our offensive system," said Fritz. "She is wiser and more experienced now with a season of competition under her belt. She has done the necessary things in the offseason to improve her physical presence on the court."
Although, she will serve primary as the team's starting libero, junior Laura Downey-Wallace could see time at the setter spot. Downey-Wallace started seven matches in 2001 and averaged 8.07 assists per game to go with three double-doubles.
A senior transfer from Division II USC-Aiken, Kristen Foote moved back to her hometown of Manhattan, Kan., after spending her first three seasons at Emporia State and USC-A.
One of the team's top players, Laura Downey-Wallace began the season as the team's starting setter before seeing action primarily as the team's defensive specialist. She tallied six double-digit dig performance during the year, including a season-best 16 in a three-game of Washington State at the Wildcat Classic on Sept. 8.
"Laura is a tremendous all-around volleyball player," said Fritz. "She came to us as a left-side attacker and has since spent time at both the setter and defensive specialist positions. She possesses a wealth of technical skill and understands the game at very high level."
Jensen, the identical twin sister of Cari, saw action in 25 matches and 78 games last season, averaging 1.59 digs per game. She turned in five double-digit dig totals, including a career-best 19 in a loss at No. 14 Texas A&M on Oct. 22.
"Kris has the ability to score points in bunches with her serve," said Fritz. "She can help us the most with her ball-control and defensive range."
Sleichter saw time in 23 matches and 67 games last season, averaging 1.79 digs per game. She had a season-best 15 digs at Iowa State on Oct. 10, one of four 10-dig matches on the season.
"She has a solid ability to receive serve," said Fritz. "She is fiery and competitive and is starting to understand the demands of the game and position."