It was the end of a legacy on Saturday night as the Kansas State volleyball team saw its season come to an end in an emotional five-set loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes inside Bramlage Coliseum.
“There have been a lot of good ones, but this one is up there,” senior middle blocker Katie Reininger said in a touching press conference after the match. “We gave it everything and the whole time I was praying and just saying thank you, God, for making this a great match because win or lose, it was awesome. I couldn’t have felt more loved and at one point it was so exhausting, but amazing to be on the court tonight.”
The Wildcats fought back after losing the first two sets of the match and forced a decisive fifth set, but ultimately came up short.
“It hurts because it is good” head coach Suzie Fritz said. “It’s hard to explain. It hurts when it is over because it is really, really good. This team and these seniors, in particular, brought so much to us — to me, personally, to my life — and they have enriched us in so many ways. They are extraordinary, and it is hard to know that we will not get to see them every day, maybe more important than anything.”
After the second set intermission, K-State stormed back to win the third set 25-22 and then win the fourth 25-23.
“We dialed a little bit. We got different matchups,” Fritz said. “That was probably the biggest thing that we did. Dialed, meaning we started in a different rotation so we had different people in front so serve-pass matchups were a little different and pass-block matchups were a little bit different. And, we got a little better look.”
The fifth set went back and forth as the Wildcats had an 8-6 lead, but Ohio State tied it up at 13. The Buckeyes capitalized on a match point to win 17-15 in the final set and move onto the round of 16.
K-State ends the season with a record of 21-10 and picked up its first NCAA Tournament win since the 2011 season after beating Lipscomb in straight sets on Friday night.
The loss to Ohio State on Saturday ends the careers of seniors outside hitter Brooke Sassin, libero Kersten Kober, setter Katie Brand and Reininger.
“That was a team that I have not felt like I have been a part of before — a team that has matured,” Reininger said. “The senior class has matured so much on the court. The fans were amazing. They were a big part of the turnaround for us. Like what (Fritz) said, we emptied the tank and went for it. It was the best game I think I could have ended on.”
Sophomore outside hitter Kylee Zumach and Sassin both had 11 kills, while junior opposite hitter Bryna Vogel had a good match with 12 kills, 9 digs and 11 blocks.
It was also a sister matchup as K-State freshman middle blocker Elle Sandbothe faced off against her sister, senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe, who plays for the Buckeyes.
Taylor finished with 15 kills and eight blocks while Elle had eight kills.
“It made me one happy girl to have all of my family here in town and so cool to play my sister,” Elle said. “One of the coolest experiences I’ve ever been a part of. This loss hurts right now and I can’t imagine how the seniors feel. It drives me to be the kind of team we were tonight.”
After the match, Elle also commented on the impact that the senior class had and will continue to have in the future.
“I can hardly put into words how these seniors impacted me,” Elle said. “They took me under their wing and made me feel like family and it’s going to hurt so bad to lose them. They are my big sisters and taught me so much about volleyball, but more importantly life.”
Arguably one of the best players to ever put a Wildcats’ uniform, Brand, had 43 assists, 15 digs and four kills in her final match at K-State.
Kober, who had nine digs and two assists in the loss, reflected on her career after the match.
“It has not always been easy, but I have loved every moment of it,” Kober said. “These people, my teammates, the community, everyone on the staff, they mean the world to me and I could not have asked for a better college experience, at all.”
Reininger said she will never forget what Fritz meant to her, leading by example every day.
“She’s always been a role model because she shows up to practice and games with the same energy and that is a hard job,” Reininger said as tears rolled down her face. “The ups and downs of coaching and what it does to your life. To show up every day with that energy and when she’s not in the gym, we know it. I love her and that is why I came to K-State and she has given me that every day. She’s a great coach.”
K-State volleyball will move on after the end of an era, without a core group of seniors who left their mark both on and off the court here in Manhattan.
“The last one is always emotional because it’s the end,” Fritz said. “This team was super weird and they are so different, but they embraced that and that’s what made them special. They are very accepting of each other and created their own culture, which is pretty cool and they took us along with it.”