A strong performance from the visiting Texas Longhorns spoiled any hopes of a Homecoming upset, as the Kansas State volleyball dropped a three-set match to the nation’s top-ranked ranked volleyball team.
“I think being the No. 1 team in the country tells you something,” K-State head coach Suzie Fritz said. “They’re also the defending national champions… They do a lot of things well, but without question they are one of the most physical teams in the country. So, just that physicality can cause you some trouble.”
Texas (15-2, 8-0 Big 12) downed the Wildcats (14-7, 2-6 Big 12) in the sweep — 25-11, 25-18, 25-20.
A crowd of 2,729 fans, including special-guest members of the 2003 Big 12 championship team watched the match. Nine members of that team — Lauren Goehring, Gabby Guerre, Vali Hejjas, Sandy Werner, Katie Stanzel, Lisa Martin, Kris Jensen, Cari Jensen and Laura Downey were honored in a reunion ceremony between the second and third sets.
“We’ve all talked about how it was a really special time for us,” said Downey. “We’re all really good friends. We don’t get to talk all the time, but it’s really nice to keep those relationships. I think that is one of the things Suzie instilled in us. This is a really special place and we all feel that way about it.”
Texas used balanced dominance in the win. The Longhorns were ferocious on the attack.
All America hitters Haley Eckerman and Bailey Webster led all attackers with nine kills each as the Longhorns racked up 42 kills in three sets and hit .345 for the match. Powerful on the block, Texas denied K-State eight times and held the Wildcats to a .050 hitting percentage for the match. And their serve, while only registering three aces, kept the Wildcats in a constant alert defensively.
“They have one of the best jump-servers in the Big 12,” said libero Tristan McCarty, who led K-State with seven digs. “But we’ve gone against her three years now so it is nice to have that experience coming in.”
McCarty said that with serve-receive being one of the team’s strengths, she felt the team just tried to look at the powerful Texas serve and turn it into a regular dig.
Outside hitters Dakota Kaufman and Courtney Traxson were joined by freshman setter Katie Brand to lead K-State with six kills apiece. Brand also led K-State with 20 assists in the match. K-State had four total blocks with Kaitlynn Pelger leading the way, notching three block assists.
Despite the outcome, the Wildcats saw improvement from a mid-week loss at Baylor, correcting some mistakes from that match.
“Improvement right now is us working on ourselves and getting better in system work, killing the ball more, serves, passes,” Traxson said. “Any improvement is important right now is what’s key.”
Texas’ power was evident early as Longhorn front-liner Khat Bell opened things up with a smash kill, but the Wildcats would hang tough early. Two kills from Traxson helped K-State pull even at 4-4. Moments later the Wildcats again fought back from a three-point deficit to within one at 7-8.
At that point though, Texas began to show why it is the No. 1 ranked team in the country. The Longhorns, backed by a powerful serve that rattled the K-State return, reeled off six straight points before a block by Chelsea Keating stopped the bleeding at 18-8. Texas cruised the rest of the way to the 25-11 set win.
The Longhorns were strong defensively as well, collecting 10 blocks and forcing the Wildcats into a negative .333 hitting percentage while committing 12 attack errors.
The second set was much the same as K-State battled to within 9-7 on a kill from Kaufman, but the Longhorns responded with four of the next five points including back-to-back kills by Eckerman and Bell to balloon the Texas lead to 13-8. The Longhorns never lost control the rest of the way leading by as many as nine on the way to the 25-18 set win.
The Wildcats fought valiantly in the third and final set of the match, pulling within two points at 20-18 on an ace from Pelger. K-State would never get closer as a Pelger service error was followed by an attack error by Brand. It was K-State’s best set by far as the Wildcats hit a .237 percentage while finally forcing the terminal Longhorns into longer transition more often.