Midway through the second set of Thursday’s match against Oklahoma, Kansas State freshman libero Mackenzie Morris dove for the ball, recording a dig. Senior setter Shelby Martin corralled it and set it up for freshman Aliyah Carter. Carter got on top of the ball for a powerful kill, increasing the Wildcats’ lead.
The play was just one of many that dictated the night for K-State. The No. 13 ranked Wildcats (4-3) went on to defeat the Sooners (2-5) in straight sets (25-16, 25-17, 25-22).
“To win in three (sets) in this league is a step forward,” Head coach Suzie Fritz said. “It means you played well over time, it means that you fought off the flows. We’ve played a lot of five-game matches and we’ve felt a lot of ups and downs throughout them. I think we still felt them in the middle of the third, but we were able to real it back in pretty fast and get it done. It feels good, especially on night one.”
K-State embraced its youth movement this season, playing a rotation mainly consisting of underclassmen. Coming into the night, true freshmen accounted for 53 percent of the team’s kills this season. On Thursday, freshmen — and underclassmen — paced the Wildcats again.
Carter led the match with 17 kills. Freshman middle blocker Kadye Fernholz added seven kills of her own. In total, underclassmen accounted for 67 percent of the team’s total points on Thursday.
“I just play. I expect to play my best,” Carter said. “If that comes with kills then that comes with kills. If it comes with more blocks than kills, then that’s what I’m going to do. I feel like we all contribute so much, even the freshmen who don’t play. Even during practice, it doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or not. At the end of the day, we’re going to bring it.”
Fritz is pleased with the team’s performance, even if they aren’t hitting on all pages at all times. What she likes most about this group is their drive and competitiveness.
“Collectively speaking, I love their competitiveness,” Fritz said. “I feel like they want to be great – they’re a high executing group. They have high ambition, they have high expectations, and I feel like they come in every day trying to get better. I like the way they go about it. That doesn’t always mean they’re always doing what they’re supposed to be doing yet, but I like the way they go about it. I think because of that process, I think that’s allowing them to improve quickly.”
New faces, same attitude: K-State’s young core takes on in-state rival Kansas
One aspect of the game Fritz sees improving is the team’s transitions. Sophomore defensive specialist Loren Hinkle said the team focused on their transition game in recent weeks and showed improvement in the win against OU.
“We’ve been working with transitions, which have helped a lot,” Hinkle said. “We’re getting better at putting plays together — from a dig to a set, to a set to a kill. Those block touches are helping a lot because it takes speed off the ball for an easier dig. It helps us put everything together.”
With another back-to-back series finale on Friday, the Wildcats have little time to recover. Fritz emphasizes recovery and sleep with the team based on their new schedule.
Hinkle and the Wildcats came off a short turnaround from their weekend series with No. 1 Texas but were ready to take on the Sooners this week.
“Suzie (Fritz) always stresses that sleep is the biggest thing to help your body,” Hinkle said. “Just making sure that we are getting the treatment we need, talking to the trainers, and taking ice baths. All those things keep us ready for games like this.”
K-State is back in action at 6:30 p.m. Friday evening for the series wrap-up against Oklahoma in Bramlage Coliseum. The match is streamed on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.