It took five sets and a gutty performance by the K-State volleyball team, but the Wildcats fought off the TCU Horned Frogs to pick up their first conference win of the season.
K-State, now 13-3 (1-2 in Big 12), won the first set 25-20, but dropped the next two 21-25. After the intermission, the Wildcats battled back, winning the fourth set 25-21 and forcing a fifth and final set. The rubber match was all K-State, as the Wildcats defeated TCU 15-7.
“We seem to always win those fifth sets,” said senior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger. “You do not want to go to the fifth set when you are playing K-State volleyball. We just have this fire in us. It is unbelievable.”
It wasn’t perfect for the Wildcats, but there were flashes throughout the night of how good this team could be. When the Wildcats got the momentum and started playing with confidence, both their offense and defense prospered. Even after 16 games, head coach Suzie Fritz is doing some tinkering, trying to find the personnel and lineups that work best together.
“I do not feel like we are where we have to be for us to ultimately be the most successful that we can be, but we are searching a little bit too,” Fritz said after the win. “We are trying some different personnel, and putting them in different places to see where we are best and how we can get the most out of them that uses their strengths. So we are still looking to see what that looks like.”
Pelger posted 23 kills on the night, and was joined by three other Wildcats in double figures. Junior middle blocker Taylor Johnson recorded 18 kills, and had a team high .441 kill percentage. In total, K-State had 70 kills, a plus-17 advantage over the opposition. Fritz said she felt things would have gone a little better had the Wildcats maintained the balanced offensive approach that they have been showing all season.
“We were over using [Pelger] through the middle part, and we did not have a lot of balance in our offense,” Fritz said. “When we actually went away from her and generated some kills for other people, then we were able to free her up again. It is not necessarily something that we were doing except to try and get more balance offensively.”
Redshirt freshman setter Katie Brand continued her impressive play. She recorded 59 assists and 15 digs, posting her seventh double double of the season. In the fourth set alone, Brand had 14 assists and nine digs.
For this team, battling back has been a learned process. At the beginning of the season, the seniors decided their team motto would be “Breath, Believe, Battle.” Trailing in the fourth set, with the match on the line, Fritz called upon her seniors to realize what the motto meant and to battle back.
“I was reminding them that here is where we want to be,” Fritz said. “It is easy to be that way when things are going your way. It is not easy to breath, believe and battle when things are not going your way, but now is the time that we need it the
The Wildcats came from behind to win the fourth set, and then continued with the momentum to win the fifth set. K-State rattled off 18 consecutive swings without an error to clinch the match. It was a huge win for K-State, and certainly a confidence boost for a team that seemed to be in limbo as they worked to right the ship.
“I think we work really well together,” said senior outside hitter Courtney Traxson. “If we just come together and slow things down on the court then we can turn things around a little faster.”
The defense continued to be the anchor for the Wildcats. The Horned Frogs were held to a swing percentage of just .160, including a .000 percentage for the decisive fifth set. Time and time again this season K-State has leaned on their defense when they face adversity and, more often than not, it comes up big.
K-State will hit the road for their next three matches. Up first to face off are the Iowa State Cyclones, as the Wildcats travel to Ames, Iowa on Wednesday, Oct. 9.