No. 22 Cats cruise past UC Irvine to start season

By Brady Bauman

ith a packed house of more than 2,700 fans, the 22nd-ranked Kansas State volleyball team opened its season with a three-set sweep of UC Irvine Friday night, 25-10, 25-18, 25-12 at Ahearn Field House.

K-State head coach Suzie Fritz said after the match that coming out of the gate with wins was key.

“W’s…you know? Now is the time to win games,” Fritz said. “To get that first one under our belt and to get those first-game jitters out of the way — everybody has them — and to deal with the expectations and how you manage them during the course of the match was good.”

Wins aside, Fritz liked what what she saw too. But, as always, there is plenty of room for improvement.

“Coaches are perpetually dissatisfied,” she said. “There’s always something we are going to want to get better at. Tonight was no different.”

Junior outside hitter Lilla Porubek led K-State with 10 kills and had a hitting percentage of .571.

Fellow junior Kaitlynn Pelger had seven kills, five assists and seven digs for a complete night, while senior Alex Muff and junior Courtney Traxson added six kills each.

As a team, the Wildcats out-blocked the Anteaters 10-5, and had five in the first set alone, when a greater majority of the starters saw the floor.

Overall, 14 players got on the floor for K-State. Fritz said the time was deserved.

“They’ve earned the right to play,” she said. “We are competing hard in practice. Competition is one of our core values, and we encourage it a lot in practice to battle for jobs.

“We have this tremendously competitive environment in practice, which leads to a lot of people earning time.The thing I was really excited about was when we’re rolling players in and out of the match, there was no drop off whatsoever. I believe our depth is our strength and we’re going to use it.”

K-State opened the first set with a 5-0 lead and dominated the rest of the way — so much so that the Cats were up 20-7 before UC Irvine got in double-digits itself.

While the second set was more competitive with the Anteaters taking a 6-5lead in the early going, it didn’t take long for the Wildcats to retake the lead and pull away to a 18-12 advantage after a kill by Wildcat sophomore and Frankfort High product Chelsea Keating. Irvine managed a short comeback toward the end, but K-State stayed in control.

The third and final set — like the first — was overwhelmingly all K-State.

Wildcats’ senior setter Caitlyn Donahue had 30 assists and 12 digs. Libero Kuulei Kabalis also had 12 digs

Donahue said the near sell-out crowd was a big source of energy for the team.

“It’s so great, and hearing (the attendance number) gives me chills,” she said. “It’s great to have all our fans out there, the students, and everybody else out there — season ticket holders — we appreciate it so much.

“I don’t think they understand how big of a role that they play in wins like that… having them behind us, hearing them cheer. It’s awesome.”

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