The Kansas State volleyball team got an earlier test than it might have anticipated Saturday night in Ahearn Field House, but battled through.
The 22nd-ranked Wildcats outlasted Oregon State into the fifth set 26-24, 23-25, 23-25, 25-23, 15-8.
K-State junior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger posted her first double-double of the season with a game-high 21 kills and a team-high 17 digs. Fellow junior Lilla Porubek had 21 kills and a block with two service aces.
Senior setter Caitlyn Donahue led the match with 59 assists for the Wildcats as well as 15 digs and a service ace. Junior outside hitter Courtney Traxson was also in double-digits offensively with 13 kills.
With the win, K-State improved to 3-0 to start the season.
“It was a battle-royale,” K-State head coach Suzie Fritz said. “When you get to Game 3 and it’s your third match in two days… sometimes it’s just not pretty, and you have to grind it out. That match was as much of ‘grinding it out’ as I think you’ll see.
“We made a few adjustments going into the fifth, and we just encouraged our team to be who they were.. to stay loose and manage their emotions. Once we found who we were late in Game 4 and into Game 5, I liked the way we played a bunch.”
It was a close match from the get-go with the Wildcats just barely edging the Beavers in the opening set 26-24. But Oregon State got the advantage late in the next two sets. It seemed momentum was on the side of the visiting team — despite a loud home crowd — but the Wildcats found their groove again by the end of the fourth.
A kill by OSU’s Camille Saxton — who had a team-high 13 kills — put the Beavers ahead 18-14. It looked like K-State — which had yet to lose a set in the its two-day tournament — was in trouble. But, back-to-back-to-back kills by Pelger changed the tide. Both teams traded points before kills by Porubek and a service ace by Donahue forced a fifth set.
In the fifth, K-State led 7-5 after the switch and was able keep the advantage the rest of the way.
“I guess we didn’t expect (OSU) to be as scrappy as they were,” Pelger said. “We knew that they were going be the better team out of the tournament. They were awesome. They kept balls alive that I didn’t think they would be able to and they kept us on our toes.
“We kind of lost ourselves in that third match and they put it on us, and we needed that. We found who we were in that fourth and fifth games.”
Fritz said she was pleased that her team got such a test in the first weekend of the season.
“Those tests like that are enormous,” Fritz said. “When you get in those situations later on — I don’t want to say when it matters a little bit more, but later in the season — if you’ve been there a few times and you’ve found a way to win, it gives you confidence you can do it again.
“This team found a way to win a lot of five-set matches a year ago. They’ve got a very special quality inside of them. They are very persistent in the way that they play. Sometimes the ebbs and flows are a little more dramatic than I would like, but when it comes right down to it, they can get it going and they turned it up a notch late in that one.”
Fritz was not shocked with the final statistics that Pelger and Porubek put up, either.
“They lead us in kills, and they’ve led us in kills for a long time,” Fritz said. “When it’s time to go, you feed the bear.”
Along with winning the Varney’s Invitational Tournament title, K-State players got individual accolades as well. Donahue was named the tournament MVP, while Pelger and Porubek were named to the All-Tournament Team.
K-State 3, Oakland 0
The Wildcats swept Oakland in three sets during the noon game of the invitational Saturday — 25-18, 25-13, 25-19.
Pelger led the Wildcats with 11 kills, while Porubek and senior Alex Muff added seven each. Meghan Bray led Oakland and the match with 15 kills.
Sophomore defensive specialist Gina Madonia had a highlight day for the Wildcats with a team-leading and career-best 15 digs. Junior Tristan McCarty — a Manhattan High product — had 13 digs and played libero for the last set. K-State’s team total of 10 service aces was the most since 2009, which was done in a five-set match.