‘Missed opportunity’: Volleyball fails to hold momentum in loss to Texas State

K-State libero Loren Hinkle digs the volleyball in the Wildcat's 3-2 loss to Texas State on Thursday night. (Sophie Osborn | Collegian Media Group)

In Kansas State’s first volleyball match since November on Thursday, it seemed like the Wildcats (10-7) could do no wrong in the first two sets.

Playing against a solidified NCAA Tournament team in Texas State (26-3) — winners of the Sun Belt — it looked like the Wildcats were well on the way to a tournament resume-building win after jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the match.

Then, everything went wrong.

“I thought we were really good for two games,” Head coach Suzie Fritz said. “Being up two, it felt like we were humming pretty good games one and two and then couldn’t sustain a level of execution and started to get a little more high error. To Texas State’s credit, I thought they upgraded pretty significantly. … They were playing their best volleyball at the end of the match and we were not.”

After outscoring the Bobcats by 16 and hitting above .350 for each of the first two sets, the Wildcats imploded, losing the last three sets without breaking a .150 hitting percentage in each of them.

For Fritz, she said Texas State responded well with adjustments later in the match — something she wasn’t sure her own team did down the stretch.

“I thought their passing stabilized a little bit,” Fritz said. “Early on, they struggled passing and it became a left side game. … We did good controlling the left side. As the match wore on, I don’t know if we backed off on our serving or if there was a ball-handling upgrade on their part. But then their offense got to be more distributed — a little less predictable. That’s when it really started to shift. They were playing cleaner and were able to get more people involved in their offense.”

K-State also had to manage the match with a shortened rotation because of injuries sustained before the match. That put a huge weight onto freshman outside hitter Aliyah Carter — who played all six rotations during a match for the first time this season.

Carter was one of the lone bright spots for the Wildcats for the entire match, notching a career-high 27 kills. Fritz said she was even more impressed with Carter’s performance as a whole, not just on offense.

“I think the thing I’m proudest of is the non-attacking skills,” Fritz said. “[Carter] played good defense. She was a primary passer for us and she held up in serve-receive. … I thought she played well at the net. And she had a serve which she hasn’t had to do for us yet. Just the management of her workload, being the first time taking on that much responsibility, I think she did a tremendous job.”

After this loss, K-State has just two more matches on its schedule that qualify for matches for NCAA Tournament resume builders. The Wildcats’ two matches against Division-II’s Wayne State won’t count as official matches heading into postseason play.

Knowing the team needed big RPI-ranking wins heading into selection day, Fritz said Thursday’s match was a missed opportunity. She said she was also disappointed with how the match ended as a whole.

“It’s just really disappointing to be up two and not get better in games three, four and five,” Fritz said. “I feel like that’s a missed opportunity for us.”

Both freshmen Kadye Fernholz (13 kills) and sophomore Holly Bonde (12 kills) broke into double-figures offensively for K-State. Freshman Mackenzie Morris led the team with 24 digs on defense.

Sophomore Caitlan Buettner led Texas State with 13 kills.

The Wildcats have a chance to prove themselves worthy of a tournament spot against Saint Louis on Sunday, March 14, in Bramlage Coliseum. First serve is scheduled for 2 p.m. with coverage on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ and radio coverage through the K-State Sports Network.