‘I felt like she took over:’ Volleyball survives scare from Oklahoma behind Shelby Martin’s big night

Senior setter Shelby Martin sets the ball during the Wildcats 3-0 loss to No. 1 ranked Texas last Saturday. (Dalton Wainscott I Collegian Media Group).

Before the final point in Friday’s match against Oklahoma, the Kansas State volleyball team had their eyes on senior setter Shelby Martin.

The Sooners served, and after a short rally, K-State had a chance to seal the deal. Martin found the ball and caught the Sooners off guard for the match’s final kill.

It was the icing on the cake for her historic performance.

“They hadn’t slowed me down yet so I thought, ‘I might as well take it,’” Martin said.

Martin became the first Wildcat to record a triple-double in six years, tallying 38 assists, 11 kills and 10 digs. The last K-State triple-double came from Katie Brand on Sept. 19, 2014, against Michigan.

“I didn’t know I had as many kills as I did until the game ended,” Martin said. “I was just trying to find a way to put the ball down, to get points for my team. We needed to find some momentum, I never went out with the mentality that I was going to be the show — I was just trying to find some momentum for the team.”

The Sooners elected to play bigger bodies in the series finale to try and limit the Wildcats’ outside production – which worked. K-State’s hitting went from .257 on Thursday, to just .159 on Friday. Head coach Suzie Fritz said those changes challenged her team.

“They got a lot bigger – and by design, I think,” Fritz said. “They put a lot of big bodies up front and kill production dropped dramatically for us. The combination of passing poorly and having to go up against that size, that’s what we didn’t adjust to as quickly as we needed to … They posed some pretty significant challenges for us.”

Martin said she felt like even if those changes caused problems for the match, it also opened up more opportunities for her. All she had to do was read Oklahoma’s middle blockers to find holes in their rotation.

“Usually when a game is that tight, I tend to set my hitters more,” Martin said. “The opportunity was there, and we were up so I went with it. It’s all a feel. It depends on if their middle (blocker) stays with me, and they hadn’t been with me all night. I didn’t feel their middle jump, so I just went ahead and took a swing.”

At the end of the night, Fritz had nothing but praise for the senior.

“She’s composed,” Fritz said. “Competitiveness late in the match, I felt like she took over. To have a setter who can create some offense like she does – we were talking to her like ‘Hey we might need you to go get you some right here.’ It was a key component at the end of the match for her to get a couple swings in, it was pretty nice.”

After the match, both Martin and junior defensive specialist Jacque Smith said they felt things were off compared to Thursday night, but were grateful to find a way to finish the match off anyways.

“I feel like our connection wasn’t as strong as yesterday,” Martin said. “I think somehow we had to find a spark – just a connection somewhere to get our momentum to start going again.”

Smith said she feels like there is a big difference between this team compared to others she’s been on. She feels like with this group, wins like Friday’s come more natural due to the team’s overall energy.

“It’s literally the vibes,” Smith said. “I just feel like we have really good energy. Everyone is really close-knit and we really trust each other on and off the court. It’s just good vibes all of the time.”

Outside of Martin, the Wildcats saw production from freshman Aliyah Carter, who finished with a match-high 17 kills on the night. Sophomore Holly Bonde (11 kills) and freshman Kadye Fernholz (10 kills) also tallied double-digit kills. Freshman Mackenzie Morris led K-State with 18 digs.

The Wildcats will be back in action next week against Kansas for the Sunflower Showdown. The match will be played at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday in Lawrence and will be broadcasted live on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.