In a packed Ahearn Fieldhouse, the K-State volleyball team fell to 12-3 overall and 0-2 in Big 12 play with a three-set loss to the Kansas Jayhawks 31-29, 26-24, and 25-19. This is the first time since the 2009 season that Wildcats have started 0-2 in conference play.
The Jayhawks talent stood out in the highly contested match.
“[Kansas] is better than I have ever seen them,” K-State head coach Suzie Fritz said.
The Wildcats were led at the net by senior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger with 11 kills. Redshirt freshman setter Katie Brand led the team with 31 assists and five block assists.
The first set led to high hopes for the Wildcats as they pushed the Jayhawks to an extended set. The set was back and forth, with 16 ties and eight lead changes, but the set came down to mistakes, with the Wildcats committing more down the stretch. Pelger had three service errors in the first set alone, including one that pushed the Jayhawks to a set point. The Wildcats fought back and secured a match point, but the Jayhawks scored three straight points to wrap up the set on their eighth attempt.
The same can be said about the second set, with the Wildcats earning a match point in an extended set, before a service error by senior outside hitter Dakota Kaufman started a three-point swing that allowed the Jayhawks to claim the second set. Senior outside hitter Courtney Traxson led the way for the Wildcats during their rally, leading the team with six kills pushing her team to take a late lead.
The intense first two sets were followed by a strong third-set performance by the Jayhawks, who only needed two match points to seal the deal and beat the Wildcats.
With Pelger and Traxson leading the team with 11 and 10 kills respectively, the team was offensively unbalanced with only two other players posting more than five kills. The Wildcats’ struggles offensively were highlighted by a dreadful .120 hitting percentage. In the end they struggled to keep pace with the offensive-minded Jayhawks who posted a .230 hitting percentage.
The Wildcats posted 26 attacking errors and committed 10 of those in the first set for the second straight match, which proved pivotal in the tightly contested match.
The Wildcats stayed close throughout the match by constantly getting good digs away from the center of the court, amassing 41 digs while posting 40 kills on the night. The Wildcats’ early aggressiveness around the net helped keep them close as they earned 9.5 total team blocks.
But that blocking attitude eroded as the game went on and the hitting power of the Jayhawks took over for a stretch before the Wildcats could regain their bearings.
“KU has some great hitters and they’re a great double-quick team,” redshirt junior Taylor Johnson said. “We adapted and got better towards the end.”
The Wildcats will now have to try to battle through a two-game slide after winning their previous five. The last time the Wildcats started 0-2 in the Big 12, they finished 6-14 in the league.
Fritz acknowledged that her team is still improving, and even improved as the match went on.
“We feel very good in the direction we are growing, we have to stay positive,” Fritz said. “The goal isn’t to be the best we can be on Oct. 1, our goal is to be the best we can be on Dec. 1.”
If the Wildcat’s are to navigate the grueling Big 12 schedule and head to their third straight NCAA tournament, getting back to playing fundamental volleyball will be a must.