The 25th-ranked Kansas State volleyball team closed out its regular season with a loss Saturday night in Ahearn Field House to Oklahoma in four sets. The Sooners won 25-22, 16-25, 26-24 and 25-14.
K-State (21-8, 8-8 Big 12) started the night celebrating the careers of five Wildcat seniors on senior night, but by match’s end the scene was an emotional one. Wildcat fans saw Kathleen Ludwig, Caitlyn Donahue, Alex Muff, Kuulei Kabalis, and newcomer Ali Boehler on Terina Irsik Memorial Court for the last time.
“I’m still really proud of our team,” said Donahue, who this season become just the second setter in school history to tally over 3,000 assists and 1,000 digs. “I think we gave it a tremendous effort and fought back really well in the third set. I think there are still a few things we need to tune-up, before we head into the tournament, but I am really excited we have another week of practice here to tighten the bolts and figure a few things out before we face our first opponent.”
Donahue said emotions were high after the match was over.
“My experience here at Kansas State has been a very special one, and not only because of the players, but also the coaches, the fans and the Manhattan community,” she said. “Everybody has made it such a special place for me and I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my last four and a half years anywhere else.”
K-State head coach Suzie Fritz said senior nights are occasions she can never prepare for.
“No, it’s impossible, I think… it feels like an impossible thing,” Fritz said. “They invest a great deal. We ask a lot of them and they invest a great deal of themselves, and what we ask them to do is very difficult – far more difficult than people actually imagine.
“I feel like that group has given us everything we could have possibly asked for. It’s hard to know you’re not going to coach them much longer.”
Although K-State ended the night with a loss, the seniors had a big presence in the final statistics.
Ludwig led the Wildcats with 12 kills and Muff ended her career in Ahearn with her first-ever double-double performance. Muff totaled 11 kills and posted a match-high 10 blocks – two of which came unassisted. Sophomore middle blocker Taylor Johnson was third with a career-high eight kills.
Defensively, Kabalis led K-State in digs with 19 and junior defensive specialist Tristan McCarty was also in double-digits with 10 digs. Sophomore Gina Madonia was one away with nine.
The Wildcats outblocked the Sooners 17-12 in the match, with Johnson tallying seven blocks and Lilla Porubek adding six.
The Wildcats were passed by Oklahoma (21-10, 10-6) late in an opening set that saw seven tied scores – most of which came towards the end. K-State closed in on the Sooners’ late lead with a kill by junior outside hitter Courtney Traxson that cut the deficit 22-20, but OU quickly recovered and took the set.
In set two, the Wildcats came out of the gate dominant with a 15-8 lead after a block by Muff and Traxson. K-State kept the foot on the gas pedal and led 21-13 after a kill by Johnson then a service ace by Porubek. Later, a Ludwig kill evened the match at a set each.
In the third, Oklahoma pulled out to an 18-10 lead after a kill by the Sooners’ Grace Whitley and it seemed like the Wildcats were staring down the possibility of a blowout. But, solid serves, big-time blocks and aggressive offense by K-State stalled OU’s momentum and tied the match 22-all after a 12-4 Wildcat run. Although a service ace by Ludwig gave K-State a 23-22 lead, it was answered by a kill from McLaurin. Another kill – this time by Kierra Holst – put the Sooners back on top, but Donahue caught OU off-guard with a dump over the net and the set was tied again, 24-24. McLaurin came back again, though, to retake the lead for the Sooners and a K-State attack error ended the set.
While the Wildcats held an early 10-9 lead in the fourth set after another block by Muff and Traxson, OU pulled away after that and cruised for the match win.
“It’s kind of a weird feeling,” Muff said about playing her last match in Ahearn. “I never thought that this would come, but I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls and coaching staff to share it with. You always know your senior night will come, but you never really want it to happen, and now it’s here. We would have liked to end it with a win, but I’m very excited for the tournament and the future of this team.”
The NCAA Tournament selection show will be televised today on ESPNU at 3 p.m.