The 22nd-ranked Kansas State volleyball team needed extra points to win the third set, but nonetheless, the Wildcats swept Saint Mary’s 25-20, 25-18, 27-25 Thursday night in Ahearn Field House.
The win is K-State’s fifth sweep in a row and seventh overall. It also improves the Wildcats to 8-0, which ties for the best start to the season in the program’s history.
The Wildcats began a year with that record twice before in 2005 and in 1988. The seven three-set wins matches the total sweeps K-State had all of last season — a season that saw the Cats go all the way to the Sweet 16.
“It’s a great start,” senior opposite Kathleen Ludwig said after the match. “We understand that everyone is going to be good, and that everyone we play is going to continue to get better and bigger, and that we are going to have continue to stay within our system.
“That’s what we are most excited about. We did what we needed to do (tonight) and we ended up with a win, and that’s huge for us. So we want to continue to build off of that.”
Junior outside-hitter Lilla Porubek led K-State with 11 kills while Ludwig followed with nine. Junior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger added eight and fellow junior Dakota Kaufman posted seven.
Junior Tristan McCarty led K-State and the game in digs with 10, while senior libero Kuulei Kabalis was also key defensively with seven digs.
K-State head coach Suzie Fritz said the contributions of McCarty and Kabalis were key.
“Tristan is incredibly important. Kuulei and her are some of our unsung heroes,” Fritz said. “They are not the ones that get to kill the balls, but they are the ones doing the things that lead up to the kill. They do so much. They cover balls, they pass balls, they dig balls and all the things that most people are not paying attention to that are really winning games for us.”
The Wildcats were challenged by Saint Mary’s (4-3) in the first two sets, but K-State was often in control and had enough cushion in the closing points. That wasn’t the case in the third set.
The Gaels led by as many as four points mid-way through the set but the lead was short-lived. A Saint Mary’s error put K-State back in the lead 21-20 and moments later, the Wildcats were in a position to end the match with a 24-22 lead. Saint Mary’s fought back, though, and the set was tied twice at 24-24 and again at 25-25. K-State finally put the Gaels away, though, with a block from Ludwig and senior middle blocker Alex Muff.
Ludwig said situations honed in practice have been paying off come game-time.
“We have spent quite a bit of time focusing on those out of system situations and taking advantage of our serving pressure by putting up a better block and getting better touches so that we can do what we do in transition,” Ludwig said. “It is really exciting and we feel that we are mindful about it. We can talk about it during plays and recognize situations to do what we need to do.”
Kristina Graven led Saint Mary’s with 11 kills, while teammates Jordan Shaw and Gabby Jolly added 10 a piece. While the Gaels totaled more serving aces than the Wildcats — five compared to K-State’s two — Saint Mary’s had 10 serving errors compared to the Cats’ four, and were out-blocked by the Wildcats 13-9. K-State also out-hit the Gaels .247 to .142.
The Wildcats will get a break from tonight’s action, while Saint Mary’s will play again at 5 in Ahearn against Utah State. K-State will conclude the week’s play against Utah State Saturday night at 6 in Ahearn.