KAZAN, Russia — The Kansas State volleyball team got the day off Thursday, following the final match of pool play Wednesday in which the team lost to Russia in three sets.
The Wildcats — playing as Team USA in the World University Games — was leading against the host nation Russia in a match that would pit the Americans against what head coach Suzie Fritz called the best team in the field.
The K-State team saw Olympians on the other side of the net for a team the Wildcats may never see the equal of again.
Team USA lost in straight sets 16-25, 23-25, 19-25 and had a big lead late in the second set for the second day in a row to nearly take down the giants from Russia.
“We came into it thinking this would be one of the greatest teams we ever play in our lives, unless we represent the U.S. as an Olympian,” K-State middle blocker Taylor Johnson said. “Obviously, the first set was kind of shaky, but we gave it our all and really worked for it and didn’t back down.
“Overall, it was a great experience. We would love to play them again, but unfortunately that’s not an opportunity. It was a really well-fought game.”
Team USA was unable to hold a lead in the opening frame, but responded well in the second set. A 4-0 run that saw a pair of kills from K-State senior Kaitlynn Pelger and an ace from junior Chelsea Keating gave the Wildcats a 13-8 advantage. The five-point lead was the largest the team could build, using back-to-back kills from Dakota Kaufman to again extend the lead to five points and lead 22-17, pushing Russia into a corner.
The Russians answered with a 7-0 run of their own to reclaim the lead and grab set point, leading 24-22. Another kill from Keating would keep Team USA alive, but it was not enough with Russia getting a kill to win the second set and take a 2-0 lead in the match.
“I thought some of our outsides really stepped up,” Johnson said. “I thought Chelsea and Dakota, they handled balls. They killed balls. They blocked balls. They really got us going. They passed well.
“We really just got it going and it was really nice to see against a very big, tall team that we didn’t get blocked very often.”
In the third set, Russia was able to build an early lead with a 6-0 run to go up 8-2. Another 5-0 run would prevent a comeback by the Americans. Russia would lead by as many as 10 points in the third set and Team USA was able to cut that lead to only four points, but it was too little too late to make more of a push before falling 25-19.
Kaufman led the U.S. with nine kills on the day, while Keating added eight kills and two aces. Redshirt-reshman Katie Brand had three service aces to provide pressure and Kaitlynn Pelger contributed six kills.
The loss to Russia concludedpool play for K-State and the team will next play Slovakia on Friday at 9 a.m. (CST) to open bracket play.