The Wildcats volleyball team won the UNLV Invitational in Las Vegas, Nev. over this past weekend, defeating Portland on Friday, and edging out Cal State Fullerton and UNLV on Saturday. K-State needed five sets to win all three matches, but proved they had the composure and experience needed to prevail. The Wildcat players announced that their team motto for this season would be “Breathe, Believe, Battle.” After this weekend’s tournament, it is evident they intend on doing all three.
K-State vs. Portland Pilots
The Wildcats opened up their 2013 season on Friday against the Portland Pilots. K-State won the match 3-2 behind careers highs in kills from junior middle blocker Taylor Johnson and junior outside hitter Chelsea Keating. Johnson posted 13 kills in the match and Keating added 11 more. Portland opened the match with a 25-19 win, but the Wildcats battled back and won the next two. The Pilots then countered by winning the fourth game, setting up a decisive fifth set. K-State, aided by several Portland unforced errors, clinched the match with a 25-23 victory in the final set. Redshirt freshman setter, Katie Brand, ran the offense well, totaling 50 assists in five games. She also added five blocks, five digs, and two kills. Senior libero and Manhattan native, Tristan McCarty, matched her career high with 17 digs. Portland actually won the kills battle decisively, totaling 69 to K-State’s 49. The Wildcats countered the attack discrepancy with good serving and side out percentages.
K-State vs. Cal State Fullerton Titans
For the second match in a row, K-State was forced to give sets and, for the second straight time, the Wildcats prevailed. The Saturday afternoon contest began with two quick K-State wins, but the Titans battled back to win the next two, forcing a rubber match. The Wildcats won with a balanced attack and great defense, posting 101 digs and 17 blocks during the five sets. Senior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger recorded 10 digs, 11 kills and 5 blocks to pace K-State. Johnson, who posted seven blocks, and team captain McCarty, who posted a career high 27 digs, joined Pelger in leading the Wildcats to victory. K-State had trouble slowing down Cal State Fullerton’s senior right setter Alyse Hensley, who had 18 kills on 58 swings. She also recorded 21 digs and was decisive in helping the Titans win games three and four.
K-State vs. UNLV Rebels
The Wildcats wrapped up their weekend with another 3-2 victory, this time against the UNLV Rebels. The win pushed K-State to 3-0 on the season and gave them the UNLV Invitational title at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Ill. Pelger, who was later named the tournament MVP, again led the Wildcats. Pelger recorded a season high 19 kills, 13 digs, 8 blocks (one solo), and four aces. Setter Brand was solid as well; posting 49 assists and helping balance out the Wildcat attack, which saw four players record double digit kills. K-State got big contributions from senior outside hitters Courtney Traxson and Lilla Porubek, who posted 11 and 10 kills, respectively. The Wildcats and Rebels alternated victories until the fifth set, where K-State finished it off. The final game saw six ties and two lead changes before the Wildcats could finally close it out 15-13. Heading into the tournament, UNLV was poised to be the toughest competition for K-State and they lived up to that hype. The Rebels battled all night, forcing the Wildcats to play sound and fundamental volleyball. UNLV wound up going 2-1 in the tournament and finishing second behind the Wildcats.
The Wildcats left Las Vegas with a tournament championship, a 3-0 record and some individual awards. Pelger was was joined in her tournament award by true freshmen libero Kersten Kober and junior middle blocker Taylor Johnson on the all-tournament team. Coach Suzie Fritz seemed pleased with her team’s ability to play multiple styles and adjust to what the other team gave them. The tournament also served as a great indicator for how setter Brand is meshing with the hitters around her. K-State will spend the week practicing and recuperating before opening up their home slate with the Wildcat Invitational on Friday at Ahern Fieldhouse. The first match is scheduled to start at noon against Southeast Missouri State.