BERKELEY, California — For the K-State volleyball team, it has become a matter of not if, but when.
On Saturday, in the Holiday Inn Invitational finale and facing its toughest opponent so far this season, the Wildcats picked up after a first set loss to come back and beat No. 23 Cal 3-2 (16-25, 25-22, 25-22, 19-25, 15-9) in Haas Pavilion in Berkeley.
The road victory over a ranked opponent was fueled by senior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger’s second straight double-double, featuring 16 kills (.308 hitting percentage) and 15 digs. Pelger also had six blocks, one of five Wildcats (9-1) with three or more blocks in the match.
Pelger garnered the tournament’s MVP award while senior libero Tristan McCarty was named to the all-tournament team. McCarty had 18 digs and one assist on Saturday.
“After our first match [this weekend], we had to breathe a little bit because it went a little fast on us,” said McCarty. “In the second match, we believed a little more in ourselves. And today, we had to battle a little bit against a really good team. We have to keep ourselves in the moment and remind each other, ‘breathe, believe, battle.’”
The team motto of “Breath, Believe, Battle” summed up how the Wildcats captured their first win over a ranked opponent on the road since December 2, 2011 against No. 2 Nebraska.
The match was the fourth five-set match of the young season, but just like the three prior results, all were notches in the Wildcats’ win column. K-State is 18-1 in their last 19 five-set matches since 2011.
K-State had only one block through the first set, but in games two and three, the Wildcats tallied 10 combined team blocks and held Cal (7-1) to a .071 and .206 hitting percentage in the second and third sets, respectively. The defense for the Wildcats was one component of their effort that improved after the first set loss.
“I got after them a little bit after game one,” said head coach Suzie Fritz. “I just said, ‘Hey, we here to compete. We have a great opportunity to play against a great team and see what we got, and we are not stepping up.’ They responded really well to that. They came out in the second set with more enthusiasm and energy.”
Three blocks early in set two set the inspired tone and gave K-State a 5-2 advantage. However, Cal eventually built a 12-7 advantage, but two aces by McCarty and a block by Katie Brand helped even the score at 15-15. The Wildcats took a 20-19 lead on a kill from Courtney Traxson off a Cal over pass, and they later clinched the set with a triple block by Traxson, Taylor Johnson and Chelsea Keating. The K-State win in the second set was the first defeat in a set this season for Cal.
Keating played an important role in the second set coming off the bench. The junior had four kills and two digs in her first set of action. She finished with six kills and five digs for the entire match.
“We had different people stepping up at different times and this was truly a team effort,” said Fritz.
Pelger had five kills in the third set as K-State was forced to rally from a 12-7 deficit once again. Brand registered an ace to bring the ‘Cats within one and later Traxson and Pelger combined for a block to tie the match at 15-15.
“Kaitlynn [Pelger] always steps up,” said Fritz. “When she knows it is time to win matches, you are glad she’s on your team. She will find a way. It is not just her attacking, too. Her blocking was good, her defense was great, and her passing was terrific. She does so much for us.”
Johnson had a team-high six kills in the fourth set, but Cal, using a 6-0 run early in the set, forced the match to five with a 25-19 victory.
After starting the match but playing limited points through the middle of the afternoon, senior outside hitter Lilla Porubek provided fresh legs and another spark for the Wildcats in the decisive fifth set. Porbuek had five kills in the fifth as K-State put away Cal convincingly, 15-9.
“Our depth is a strength for us,” said Fritz. “When it comes to that point in the match, you have to take your chances with your most experienced players.”
K-State finished the tournament with a 2-1 record. The Wildcats won three of the four matches this week after defeating Tulsa on Tuesday.
The Wildcats return to action on Friday, September 20 when they take part in the Arkansas Invitational.
Cats win in four
A double-double by Lilla Porubek, which included season-highs in digs and kills, helped the K-State volleyball team outhustle Cal Poly to a 3-1 (25-21, 25-21, 25-27, 29-27) win in the Hilton Garden Inn Invitational at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley.
For Porubek, her team-high 16 kills were attributable to working seamlessly with teammate, setter Katie Brand.
The ability to convert more swings for kills was a vast improvement for K-State (8-1) between Thursday and Friday. In addition to Porubek, three other Wildcats tallied double-digit kills, including 14 from Kaitlynn Pelger, 12 from Courtney Traxson, and 10 by Dakota Kaufman. Brand, meanwhile, finished with her fifth double-double of the season, registering 49 assists and 14 digs.
While the offense improved, the defense effort was “excellent,” as head coach Suzie Fritz put it. The Wildcats held Cal Poly (4-4) to a .124 overall hitting percentage in the match, including sub-.100 clips in the first and second sets.
The Wildcats finished with 86 digs to Cal Poly’s 87. K-State led in the digs category 40-35 after the first two sets.
In the fourth set, the Wildcats trailed by as much as 17-10, but a Pelger kill began the K-State comeback. The Wildcats slowly drained the advantage, and facing the possibility of set point, Courtney Traxson and Pelger combined for a block to make it 23-22 Cal Poly. The Mustangs still brought it to set point one rally later, but a dump kill by Brand and attack error by the Mustangs evened the match at 24-24. Knotted up at 27-27, kills by Porubek and Johnson ended the drama and gave the Wildcats the match.