The K-State Volleyball team traveled to California this past weekend to participate in the Hilton Garden Inn Invitational, hosted by Cal Berkeley. The Wildcats opened with a disappointing loss against Santa Clara, but bounced back to defeat Cal Poly on Friday and No. 23 ranked Cal on Saturday. K-State, which entered the tournament 7-0, now sits at 9-1. Here’s a recap of the three games the Wildcats played over the weekend:
In the first set, the Wildcats got down early, trailing 12-4 before either team had really settled in. It was evident from the first serve that the atmosphere, and opponent, would be different than what the Wildcats had faced in their previous seven games. From start to finish, Santa Clara outplayed the Wildcats. K-State failed to lead in any of the three sets, and simply could not put the ball away on offense. The Broncos won set one 25-18, and won the next two sets both 25-17. Although the sweep wasn’t ideal, head coach Suzie Fritz said she was able to take away a few positives from the loss.
“We stayed low-error,” Fritz said. “That is going to be the mark of this team. We are going to make you beat us, but we are not going to hurt ourselves.”
Senior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger, who finished with seven kills and an attack percentage of .333, led the Wildcats. Senior outside hitter Dakota Kaufman was second on the team with five kills.
K-State bounced back from their loss the night before to down the Cal Poly Mustangs in four sets. The Wildcats, who moved to 8-1 on the year, won the first two sets, dropped the third, but came back to close out the Mustangs in the fourth, winning an exciting game 29-27. Lilla Porubek led the Wildcats on offense. The senior outside hitter had a double-double, with 16 kills and 18 digs. The Wildcats had three other players with double digit kills. While the offense looked smooth, Fritz pointed to her team’s serving as a team piece to the win.
“Cal Poly is a team when they are in system and passing well, their speed can cause a great deal of problems,” Fritz said. “In the first two games, we did a nice job of serving them out of that speed.”
Redshirt freshman setter Katie Brand posted another double double, recording 49 assists and 14 digs. She also added five kills. The Wildcats seemed to recover nicely from the night before, returning to the balanced offense and fundamental defense that had gotten them to 7-0 entering the tournament.
After splitting the first two matches in the Cal Invitational, the Wildcats returned to action on Saturday for the tournament recap against the No. 23-ranked Cal Bears. Sticking to their season motto of “Breathe, Believe, Battle,” the Wildcats traded sets with the Bears, and then rallied to win the final set 15-9. K-State’s upset win was an impressive resume builder, and one that the Wildcats will certainly hang their hat on. For Fritz, she said it wasn’t a matter of if, but when. She said she knew her team was ready to make a move, she just wasn’t sure of the time.
“Kaitlynn [Pelger] always steps up,” Fritz said. “When she knows it is time to win matches, you are glad she’s on your team. She will find a way. It is not just her attacking, too. Her blocking was good, her defense was great and her passing was terrific. She does so much for us.”
Pelger was simply incredible from the first serve, finishing with 16 kills, 15 digs and six blocks, putting together one of her most complete matches in recent memory. Pelger, who is one of the few middle blockers in the country to play all six positions, greatly contributes to the Wildcats and she proved that repeatedly on Saturday. After the match was completed, Pelger was awarded the tournament MVP. This marks the second time this season Pelger has taken home the most valuable player award from a tournament.
K-State didn’t get the 3-0 tournament record that they had hoped for, but their two wins were as impressive as they’ve had all season. The Wildcats have only played four home matches all season, but have handled the constant travel well so far. The Wildcats will return to Manhattan for a couple days of practice before going on the road again to Fayetteville, Ark. to participate in the Razorback Invitational next weekend.