Pelger leads K-State to sweep over Bears

By Nicolas Wahl

A strong all-around performance by Kaitlynn Pelger helped fuel the multifaceted sweep the Kansas State volleyball team unleashed on Baylor Wednesday night at Ahearn Field House.

(Kansas State’s Taylor Johnson hammers down a kill against Baylor on Wednesday night at Ahearn Field House).

The senior middle blocker finished with eight digs, seven kills, six blocks, three assists and three service aces to lead the Wildcats to a 25-17, 25-17, 25-17 win over the Bears. 

“There was a lot that went into it,” said K-State head coach Suzie Fritz of Pelger’s performance. “Her serving and her digging, but when we talk about being on task, she was very good at the net. That’s something she’s working on. Blocking hasn’t always been her strength. I really like the way she played defensively.

“She’s always an offensive presence, but when she can do that on both sides of the ball, man, it’s something special.”

It was a unique performance by the Wildcats overall. After coming out hitting a blistering .536 in the opening set, K-State relied heavily on it’s defensive strength the rest of the match. The Cats (17-9, 5-8 Big 12) would finish with .242 hitting mark.

K-State held Baylor (12-18, 4-10) to just .074 hitting, while tallying 13 team blocks. And thanks to some solid backline play led by senior libero Tristan McCarty’s match-high 10 digs, the Wildcats dug out an aggressive Baylor serve and forced the Bears into 39 errors.

“I thought we received quite well,” Fritz said. “They had a lot of serves where they tried to drive us back and we managed those situations, and stayed in a good pass situation that allowed us to get the middles involved in the match.”

An assertive first set by junior outside hitter Dakota Kaufman kick-started the Wildcats early. Back-to-back Kaufman kills turned a 2-2 tie into a two-point K-State advantage, and after a kill by Baylor’s Adrien Richberg made it 4-3 Cats, K-State reeled off five straight points to lead 9-3 on a Taylor Johnson kill made possible by a highlight-reel dig by McCarty.

The Wildcats got their big lead of the set at 19-10 on another Kaufman kill, before she closed it out with her fifth kill of the game on set-point to give the Cats the 25-17 win.

“She’s a fireball,” Pelger said of Kaufman. “She can jump out of the gym ... when she’s on, she’s on. We always talk about feeding the bear, and she was outstanding.”

The second game saw the both teams battle to a 9-9 tie, but an ace from Pelger gave K-State a one-point lead and it wouldn’t give up the rest of the way. A big dig by freshman libero Kersten Kober led to a duel-block from Pelger and Courtney Traxson.

“We know if we’re getting points up on the board that we have something to do with it,” McCarty said of the back line play. “As long as we’re doing our job, we know our guys up there can score. It’s really exciting to see our offensive momentum and transition get kicking.”

The pair teamed up for another block on the next play, before Traxson finished off the match with another kill at 25-17.

K-State imposed its will for much of the third and deciding set. In a run that included three Chelsea Keating aces in four serves, the Cats jumped out to a 9-2 lead when a one-touch kill on a bad Baylor dig by Pelger capped a seven-point Wildcat run.

The Bears would fight to within three after a 7-1 run made it 11-8, but a Traxson kill was followed by an ace by Brand and K-State was back up by five. Brand finished with a game-high 25 assists.

When Kober made another big diving dig that led to a Traxson kill, the Wildcats’ lead had ballooned to 21-13. Pelger’s third ace of the night made it 23-13, before back-to-back kills by junior middle blocker Taylor Johnson — who joined Traxson with a team-high eight kills — gave K-State the match at 25-17.

K-State travels to Austin, Texas, to take on the top-ranked Longhorns on Saturday at 4 p.m.

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