Cats move to 7-0 on the season

By Nicolas Wahl

The Kansas State volleyball lost a sluggish first set to Tulsa, and then used a second-set boost from reserve hitter Natali Jones to shift the momentum in the match and weather the Hurricane for a 3-1 victory Tuesday night in Ahearn Field House.

K-State won 14-25, 25-23, 25-22 and 25-16 to extend its winning streak to open the season to seven matches.

With the win, K-State snapped Tulsa’s six-match winning streak and dropped the Golden Hurricane to 6-2 on the season.

After watching her Wildcats lose the first set — mostly due to a paltry .125 hitting percentage — Jones took matters into her own hands with her team trailing 6-3 early in the second.  She smashed her first kill of the match to bring the Wildcats within two, responded to a Tulsa point with another kill of her own, and then sent a devastating block back across the net to pull the Wildcats within a point at 7-6.

“It is definitely a momentum game and I felt like we had the momentum at that point,” Jones said. “We just kept going with it.”

Jones’ first kill set K-State off on a 10-2 run that turned the early three-point deficit into an 11-8 Wildcat advantage and forced Tulsa coach Steven McRoberts to call a timeout.

“The best teams manage those momentum changes at a high level,” K-State coach Suzie Fritz said. “Two back-to-back kills by Natali, combined with another block — that’s a three-point turn for us.”

If anyone used that momentum for the rest of the second set, it was K-State’s do-everything senior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger. She carried her team the rest of the game, notching six kills down the stretch to will her team to a tough two-point win.

“(Pelger) is an outstanding slide hitter,” Fritz said. “The other thing that she is doing, she is carrying a significant amount for us from a passing perspective. You don’t see a number of teams that play a middle at six rotations, but it’s not just that.  It is all the things that she does for us like playing second contact and managing the first one.  She is doing a lot for her team.”

Tulsa hung tough in a third set that saw the two teams tie three times to go along with 12 lead changes. Courtney Traxson, who was mired on the bench with Jones in the first set, led the third-set charge with a team-high five kills.  It was also K-State’s best offensive set by far, as the Wildcats posted a .316 hitting percentage. 

The Hurricane was able to muster little resistance to the Wildcats in the fourth and final set.  K-State led 10-5 when two consecutive Tulsa tip attempts landed in the net to balloon the Wildcats’ lead to seven. Tulsa was a balmy .025 hitting in the set, while committing 11 attack errors.  Fittingly, it was Jones, who fueled K-State’s comeback earlier, that put Tulsa away for good with a slide-kill to give the Wildcats the game and the match win.

Pelger led K-State with 11 kills, while Jones and Dakota Kaufman chipped in with nine each. Traxson had seven. Freshmen setter Katie Brand had a match-high 38 assists and joined Lilla Porubek and Tristan McCarty to lead the team with 13 digs apiece.

The Wildcats’ next action will be on the road Thursday when K-State plays Santa Clara at 6:30 p.m. to open the Hilton Garden Inn Invitational in Berkeley, Calif.

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