Of all the volleyball matches to attend this season, last night’s was among the most important.
Sure, K-State lost, but that says nothing about the multiple heart attacks that surely occurred from the roller-coaster match. Senior libero Lauren Mathewson moved into second place for career digs at K-State with 1,587. The Wildcats took a top-15 team to multiple extra points. They showed hopes of finally breaking their now 21-game losing streak. More than 2,500 fans showed up for the match. But to Mathewson, a loss is a loss, no matter the highlights.
“We’re really frustrated,” she said. “I think that we can play better than that.” The Wildcats (9-14, 3-9 Big 12 Conference) put up a fight in the first game, but No. 12 Iowa State (16-4, 9-3) won 14-25. In the second, the teams battled ferociously and moved into extra points, but the Cyclones still came out on top, barely, 30-28. After the 10-minute break, K-State dropped straight back down and lost 15-25.
Head coach Suzie Fritz said her team needs to manage its inconsistencies better.
“There are natural ebbs and flows in the game, but ultimately you have to be good over time,” Fritz said. “I think we’re good sometimes, but I don’t think we’re good over time. If you want to beat a team like Iowa State, who’s a legitimate volleyball team, then you’ve got to be better.”
K-State played its depth this match, with 12 of the team’s 17 players finding time on the court. The Player of the Match award goes to Mathewson, who recorded 18 digs in three game — much higher than her 4.54 digs-per-game average — to move into second place for career digs, which seemed to make her happy.
“It’s great,” Mathewson said. “I love it here. My coaches have made me the player that I am today. It’s a great feeling.”
Up front, no player swung over a .200 hitting percentage, but sophomores opposite hitter Kathleen Ludwig and middle blocker Alex Muff shouldered the defense with five and four blocks, respectively, and the team also seemed to serve much better. Mathewson said her team needs to work on its offensive ability.
“We’ve got to be better offensively,” she said. “We got to get pass rhythms, set rhythms, and our hitters have to get going.”
Game one started out decently, but soon went downhill. The teams were tied 6-all, but the Cyclones began to carve out a lead point by point, eventually moving up to 14-12. From there, Iowa State nabbed 11 points over two from K-State, winning 25-14.
The beginning of the game was mostly controlled chaos, with each team bobbing and weaving in a mind-boggling fury of planning and execution. Sophomore setter Caitlyn Donahue left the match at point 12, and sophomore Ashley Kelican filled in, whom Fritz said “did a good job.” After the swap, the Cyclones strung together their two huge runs. K-State’s offense apparently had the night off this game, slumping to a negative .026 hitting percentage with 6 kills, compared to Iowa State’s .378 and 17.
The second game opened with another battle, but this one proved closer. After four ties and a couple of lead changes, K-State, down by two, put up a six-point run to shoot ahead to 10-7. When Iowa State caught up half a rotation later, the teams reignited its furious contest for the lead. Ahearn Field House lit up with intense cheering and the energy reached peak levels as both sides rallied in desperation for the finish. Sixteen ties and eight lead changes passed by, K-State raged, Iowa State countered, but the latter overcame the home-field advantage and won 30-28.
The Wildcats had to readjust their serving line-up after Donahue’s leaving, and their were sporadic periods of confusion, but they ultimately had a better game with the new direction. Instead of K-State’s usual front-row defense, it brought out a brick wall, which shot back six kills for points and numerous others to continuously kept out the Cyclones. In the back, Mathewson hit her mark in this game and moved up to new heights.
In the third game, though, K-State did not show up. The Cyclones jumped out with nine points and continued to climb upward, finally ending the match 25-15 after siding out 80 percent. While the Wildcats’ block was still holding up to the beating from Iowa State, K-State’s offense dipped to a negative .152 after only five successful hits, and the other stats also took a dive.
Fritz said she did not know why her team continues to hit a lull after intermission.
“Why we come out so flat in game three, I have no answers,” she said. “But it continues to happen to us.”