With their backs against the wall, the No. 22 Wildcats reached another impressive mark in program history last Saturday. For the first time since Nov. 5, 2011, K-State was able to bounce back from a 2-0 match deficit, defeating Texas Tech.
“We’ve talked a lot about resilience and that being the hallmark or trademark of this group,” head coach Suzie Fritz said after the win. “They’re fighters. The goal was get better as we go. I think we came out early and felt like this is not the team we’re capable of being. But we came out in (set) three and said “Let’s just try to get better as we go” and we did.”
It was rough going early for the resilient Wildcats (20-3, 7-2).
Set one was fairly even as it reached a 19-all tie. From that point, good hitting by the Red Raiders (15-7, 3-7) allowed them to slowly inch away from K-State and 23-25 win on a Wildcat error.
Set two was a similar story up until six points in. After that, Texas Tech used a .424 hitting percentage to pull away from the Wildcats 17-25. Fritz’s squad struggled immensely in the second set, hitting a match worst .143.
For Fritz and her team, the message was simple going into the half.
“Clearly, we weren’t going hard enough early,” Fritz said. “The mindset changed to that we needed to find that resiliency, fight for more points…we said let’s try to go hard first and then we can go from there.”
K-State seized a 5-1 set-three lead that Tech was never able to overcome. They came as close as one, 25-23, but the home team’s momentum was too strong.
Set four was a marathon with nine ties and three total lead changes. The Red Raiders led by five early, but K-State crawled back to tie it up at 20. From that point on, it was back and forth between the two teams and it seemed that neither team would yield control of the set until K-State pulled ahead 30-28.
Finally, a kill from defending Big 12 freshman of the week outside hitter Kylee Zumach and a block from senior middle blocker and AVCA National Player of the Week Natali Jones gave K-State the two points they needed to topple the set in their favor and knot up the match at two sets a piece.
“I think it was good for us,” redshirt sophomore middle blocker Katie Reininger said of the excitement of set four. “During the crazy plays, that’s when we play our game. Having the loud, screaming fans and our heart racing on the court helped us focus and dial it in and end it.”
That focus carried through to set five where the Wildcats dominated. They hit a match-best .400 compared to the .000 that the Red Raiders put up.
K-State led by as much as nine as they cruised through the set to complete the rally and get the 15-7 win.
There were many Wildcats that stood out for K-State, but none were more important than senior outside hitter Chelsea Keating.
Keating had a career-high 17 kills on .429 hitting and 13 of those came in the final three sets. The senior also had a big night defensively, leading the team with another career-high 22 digs.
“After the first couple sets (Keating) brought us in the huddle,” Reininger said. “I had kind of a bad play and she said, ‘Hey, you know what you need to do, go out there and do it’ and that really jumpstarted me. She’s not really an obvious spark plug, but her steadiness and her focus really get us going.”
It was also a breakout game for freshman outside hitter Bryna Vogel. The freshman had seen sporadic playing time throughout the season, but came in and played big minutes and contributed a career-high 10 kills and only one error on .500 hitting.
“Everyone comes into practice trying to get better and trying to help the team,” Keating said. “But it’s nice knowing if you are having an off day, there is someone there to help you out. Bryna did that today. She stepped up and did really well.”
Not to be overshadowed, Zumach led the team with 22 kills and sophomore setter Katie Brand had a career high 64 assists.