Morgan Family Arena opener day for volleyball ends in intense sweep

The point goes on as outside hitter Aliyah Carter stands at the net reading the ball. Carter led the match with 14 kills as Kansas State volleyball swept Omaha 3-0 on Friday, Sept, 1.(Avery Johnson | Collegian Media Group)

“As close to perfect as you can really get it,” fifth year senior defensive specialist Loren Hinkle said about the day of Kansas State volleyball after a 3-0 sweep against the Omaha Mavericks.

The day started with a 3 p.m. ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of the new Morgan Family Arena for the volleyball team. Hinkle — among many others including head coach Jason Mansfield and Athletic Director Gene Taylor — spoke at the event, praising and thanking all those who contributed to the monumental day.

“I think it was great,” Mansfield said about the day. “I don’t think it was too much. I think we were very excited for this day to come and I thought it was really tasteful, everything that was done.”

The ribbons were eventually cut and the smaller crowd outside the arena slowly dispersed. A few hours later it was time to hit the court to a much larger crowd to gather inside Morgan Family Arena.

“Tonight was unlike any other game,” Hinkle said about the student section. “Of all the matches I’ve played at K-State at home, I feel like, even in Ahearn … it was pretty cool.”

The match started off loud as the first point came from a Mavericks serve and ended from a kill from outside hitter Sydney Bolding. The beginning of the set would continue back-and-forth. The Wildcats settled down and eventually stood at set point up 24-18. After three straight points from Omaha, the transfer duo connected as setter Izzi Szulczewski assisted Liz Gregorski on a kill to end the set 25-21.

Set 2 did not start as smoothly for the Wildcats. Omaha sprung up to a 8-3 lead featuring four straight points with kills. The lead grew as high as seven as K-State was looking up at a 16-9 deficit. 

“We’ve been in some pretty tough situations so far this season where we’ve been down and the other team is playing really well and making us play, you know, hard volleyball,” Mansfield said. “And we have to play better, and we have.”

K-State took over the rest of the set, winning 16 out of the next 23 points to win 25-23. Outside hitter Aliyah Carter finished the set with a kill, but her favorite moment on the night came from K-State’s 24th point highlighting the 5-foot-7 Szulczewski galvanizing the crowd.

“I honestly think my favorite moment was when Izzi stuffed that one ball,” Carter said. “It was like … I feel like we’ve heard arenas that loud like [because] sophomore year, my sophomore year, we went to Nebraska. We’ve heard arenas that loud, but we’ve never heard it on our side for us. You look around, everyone’s smiling and cheering and wearing purple. And it was just… I like that. That was nuts.”

The crowd cheers on the Kansas State Wildcats volleyball team in a 3-0 victory against Omaha on Sept. 1. The match was the team’s home opener and the first match ever played in Morgan Family Arena. (Avery Johnson | Collegian Media Group)

The Wildcats still had another set to win and fell into nearly the exact same issue. Omaha again went up 8-3 and expanded the lead further. Instead of going up 16-9, the Wildcats stopped the set at 15-9. K-State sprung back again but was not nearly as fast. Down 23-22, K-State won the final three points to secure a 3-0 sweep in its first win in Morgan Family Arena.

“I think it shows a lot of maturity,” Hinkle said about coming back twice. “Being able to not focus so much of our attention on what the score is and instead just focusing on getting the next point, what do we need to do to better the ball. I think it takes a lot of mental toughness to do that.”

The home opener for Hinkle was her fifth as a Wildcat and in the third arena. Hinkle had previously played at both Ahearn Field House and in Bramlage Coliseum.

“I think the atmosphere is a lot more volleyball-centered,” Hinkle said. “It’s a lot more, I would say, close-knit because it’s the right amount for a volleyball game.”

Carter led the match with 14 kills and picked up a double-double as Szulczewski led the match with 24 assists and libero Mackenzie Morris led the match with 19 digs.

The Wildcats have a short break and then turn around to focus on playing one of the highest ranked teams in the nation. 

“It’s kind of just like, taking one moment at a time,” Carter said about being ready for the next match. “Focusing on tomorrow, how we can recover and rest first.”

The Wildcats will host its second match at Morgan Family Arena at 4 p.m. Sunday against the No. 5 Nebraska Cornhuskers.

“Then as soon as we wake up tomorrow, we reset and we got another one to focus on,” Hinkle said. “So, that in mind, recovery is number one and then … go get a dub.”