Volleyball survives first NCAA tourney round

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The K-State volleyball team swept the Wichita State Shockers in three sets, 25-18, 25-22 and 25-17, in the first NCAA tournament game since 2008.

Kaitlynn Pelger said she was nervous before the game, but calmed down once it started.

“I think personally for me, in my first NCAA tournament, I didn’t know what to expect,” Pelger said. “I just had to realize it was just another match. We’re one of 64 teams out of 300-something that still gets to play.”

Pelger and Alex Muff led the Wildcats with 15 and 10 kills respectively. Muff also led the team with a .412 hitting percentage.

Head coach Suzie Fritz said Pelger and Muff have each periodically stepped up for the Wildcats this season.

“Pelger is an all-conference selection and has been a significant part of our offense,” Fritz said. “Alex Muff is our defensive specialist of the two. She does things at the net that we have never had a middle do.”

The Shockers struggled to score the entire match as the Wildcats held them to a .119 hitting percentage. The Wildcat’s defense dug 13 more balls than the Shockers with Pelger leading the team with 17 digs. Tristan McCarty and Kuulei Kabalis were not far behind Pelger in digs, having 12 and 14 respectively.

The first set went back and forth between the two schools until the score reached 12-12. Then, the Wildcats found their rhythm offensively and scored seven straight points. The streak served to be the difference as the two teams played evenly the rest of the set with the Wildcats winning 25-18.

Muff said winning the first set was crucial for the Wildcats.

“It was super important for us as a team to win the first set like that,” Muff said. “We’ve struggled to come out and play our best volleyball early. We relaxed and knew what we had to do.”

It looked like the Wildcats would run away with the second set early as they grabbed an early four-point lead. The Shockers battled back to a 1-point lead at 18-17. The Shockers’ lead did not last long as the Wildcats were sparked by a Kathleen Ludwig block to get back in control of the game. The block got the score to 19-18 in K-State’s favor and a late three-point run gave the Wildcats the breathing room they needed to secure a 25-22 win.

The third set resembled the first one, as it was a tight battle early on until a four-point Wildcat run gave them a 15-11 lead. K-State’s lead would not get any smaller than 3 points from that point on as the Shockers could not handle the Wildcats’ offensive firepower and dropped the third set 25-17.

The Wildcats play the former Big 12 Conference member and No. 2 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers Friday, who swept their first round opponent, Jackson State. The winner will travel to Honolulu, Hawaii, for the next round of the tournament.

Fritz said her team has exceeded outside expectations all season and they will prepare for the Cornhuskers like every match before.

“We just work one at a time. We’ve been that way all year,” Fritz said. “I’ll be frank and say that nobody thought we were going to be any good this year, and we found a way to win matches. We had every intention of playing our best volleyball in December and we’re going to try to do that again tomorrow.”

First serve will be at 7 p.m. today at Lincoln, Neb., in the Coliseum. The match will be available to watch free on huskers.com and it will be broadcast on KMAN-AM 1350.

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