‘We’re here to put up a fight’: K-State falters late in loss to Texas

Sophomore defensive specialist Dru Kuck dives to save the ball during No. 13 Kansas State's five set loss to No. 1 Texas on Friday night. (Sophie Osborn | Collegian Media Group)

Head coach Suzie Fritz knows volleyball is a game of runs – which showed in the Wildcats Friday’s loss to No. 1 Texas, 19-25, 25-21, 25-20, 18-25, 7-15.

No. 13 Kansas State (3-2) knew it would be a dogfight against the Longhorns (7-0), who came into the night having only lost a single set in six total matches all season.

The Wildcats started the match in a back-and-forth battle before the bigger — and stronger — Longhorns pulled away late in the first set. K-State had positive energy, sparked by freshman libero Mackenzie Morris who sacrificed her body multiple times to keep plays alive — as well as other members from the back row.

Morris wanted to make sure her team was getting enough chances.

“I just try to get as many balls up as I can,” Morris said. “Just getting touches is the most important part.”

Morris got plenty of chances herself, finishing the night with a match-high 21 kills.

K-State played positively in the next two sets, winning both off of stellar defensive play and an offensive outburst from freshman Aliyah Carter. The freshman caught fire, recording eight kills on 16 attempts in the third set, pacing the team.

For Carter, her performance was all about confidence.

“I guess just keeping in my mind that I can compete at any level and this team can compete at any level,” Carter said. “With a team like Texas, you’ve got nothing to lose. They’re number one, so I thought to myself, ‘Why not just go balls to the walls and just freaking go,’ just play like I know how I can play. They don’t know me, but I’ll make them know me.”

Carter finished the match with a match-high 26 total kills, a school record for most kills in a single match by a freshman. Cater’s performance pleased Fritz.

“I think she’s fearless, that might be the thing I like about her most,” Fritz said. “She’s done a nice job of competing — she doesn’t back down from a challenge. She’ll make a mistake, but she’ll come back and do something productive with the next one. That’s showing some nice maturity on her part.”

Even with her stat-breaking performance, Carter mainly wants the public to know the team can compete with anybody.

“They’re number one and we showed people that we’re not here to play around,” Carter said. “We’re here to put up a fight.”

After going up 2-1 in the match, the top-ranked Longhorns responded with runs. Texas jumped out to an early lead, only to have K-State push back. At the 15-11 mark, the Longhorns put in a final push. They won the fourth set 25-18.

Texas controlled the fifth set as well, taking the match.

“I think we needed to show a little bit more competitive composure later on,” Fritz said. “What I like about this team more than anything is that I think they’re incredibly competitive. But I think they ride the wave of the match. Volleyball is a game that has a lot of natural flows to it anyway, so if you can get to the point where you can stabilize those, those are the teams that can be good over the course of time. And against a team like Texas, you have to be good for a very long time.”

Morris agreed that more consistency throughout the match is needed to beat a team of Texas’ caliber.

“We just keep talking about being better for longer periods of time,” Morris said. “We need to find that energy, even when we’re all tired and show out.”

The effort from Morris and the back row pleased Fritz. She felt the effort on defense gave the Wildcats the chances they needed to keep them in the match.

“I think our liberos are doing a tremendous job keeping us in rallies,” she said. “I think the effort they’re making, the quality of ball handling is giving us a lot of chances. There’s a lot of positive things to grow from for sure.”

After the match, Fritz said the team was upset with the loss, which was good from her standpoint. She saw them grow up at times throughout the match and is pleased to see the ability that they are capable of playing at.

“I think they’re disappointed and a little bit angry — which is exactly how we want them to be,” Fritz said. “I think they’re somewhat optimistic about the level that they’re capable of playing at. We’re still a work in progress, still learning about each other, and about playing together. . . At times they grew up.”

The Wildcats have another chance to make history on Saturday night with the series finale against the Longhorns. K-State has never beaten the top team. Saturday’s match is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Bramlage Coliseum. It will be broadcasted on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.