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K-State regains footing, sweeps Tech

By Nicolas Wahl

Over the course of a tough opening stretch of the Big 12 season that saw the Kansas State volleyball team match up against four of the conference’s top-five teams, head coach Suzie Fritz has tried desperately to find a combination that would facilitate offensive balance for her team.

She may have found it after the Wildcats three-set sweep of Texas Tech at Ahearn Field House on Saturday night.

K-State (14-5, 2-4 Big 12) downed the Red Raiders (8-13, 1-5 Big 12) in three sets 25-19, 25-19, 25-22 to earn its first win in two weeks.

“I liked everything about my team today,” Fritz said. “I liked the way they played in all phases. They served and passed at a high level. Our transition game was tight. We’re getting our kill percentage up. I thought we played consistent, and we’ve been on ‘em (in practice).”

Senior outside hitter Kaitlynn Pelger — who led all scorers with 15 kills and 16 total points — finished off the third and final set of the sweep with a slide-kill to down the Red Raiders 25-22. She also moved into fourth on the all-time K-State career kills list with 1,408, but it was what the other Wildcats were able to accomplish offensively that had her feeling good afterwards.

“This whole week we’ve been getting a lot of outside hitter work,” Pelger said. “They’ve been working really hard ... We had the best week of practice that we’ve had all season and they came in and did exactly what we needed.  It was awesome.”

Outside hitters Dakota Kauffman and Courtney Traxson had 10 and nine kills respectively to help manufacture a Wildcats charge that had six players notch four or more kills en route to a .266 hitting percentage on the night. Kauffman was particularly lethal, hitting .450 for the match and opening things up for Pelger, whose .406 hitting percentage was her best in Big 12 play.

“Sometimes we put a lot of pressure on her to kill a lot of balls,” Kauffman said. “So, when everyone else is contributing it makes their block try and get us outsides as well and opens up holes for her too.”

Kauffman’s performance came after Fritz decided to change up her positioning heading into the game, moving her from the left to the right side in an effort to find balance.

“We felt like she could get more kills over there,” Fritz said. “We felt like she could take more swings over there, and I feel pretty good about that change.  It was a productive change for the team.”

Despite the Wildcats’ efforts to focus inward and worry about improving, Kauffman said the win was a huge boost for her team.

“We needed that really bad,” she said. “It always feels good to win.  We want to play good, but most importantly we want to win.”

The Wildcats registered 18 kills in the opening frame, coming off the hands of six different players. Kauffman and Pelger led the way in the set with five kills and Pelger was one of four Wildcats to notch three or more in the set. Pelger sparked a 5-1 K-State run with two kills of her own as the Wildcats finished off the set on a cross-court smash by outside hitter Chelsea Keating to take the set 25-19. K-State hit .310 on their attack during the set.

The Wildcats stymied Texas Tech into just a .175 hitting percentage in the set while registering four blocks on Red Raider attack attempts. 

K-State was similarly efficient in the second set. They led by as many as seven points, and hit a solid .267 hitting percentage. Pelger opened up her attack to lead the charge in the set with four kills, but the balance was there again. Traxson also had four kills to keep pace with Pelger and five Wildcats also earned kills in the set or scored two or more points in the set.

A mini-run by the Red Raiders that turned cut a 6-point K-State lead to 19-15 was turned by a Traxson kill. The Wildcats then reeled five of the sets final eight points to claim another 25-19 win on back-to-back kills by Pelger and Traxson.

K-State kept the pressure on defensively forcing Texas Tech into nine errors and a paltry .152 hitting percentage. 

The Wildcats cruised to their third set victory. They never trailed in the match and built as much as a six-point lead in the frame when a service error by Tech’s Jenna Allen made it 16-10 K-State. The Red Raiders would scratch to within 20-18, but K-State kept them at bay for the 25-22 win.

K-State’s next action is a road-trip to Baylor on Wednesday. First serve is set for 7 p.m.

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