It was a special way to send off a group of six seniors as the Kansas State volleyball team celebrated its senior night with a sweep over No. 25 Iowa State at Ahearn Field House Saturday night.
(Kansas State’s Tristan McCarty celebrates after scoring a point against No. 25 Iowa State on Saturday at Ahearn Field House).
The Wildcats (18-11, 6-10 Big 12) used 43 digs and eight total blocks to help force Iowa State into 38 errors and .167 hitting to down the Cyclones (18-9, 11-5) by a score of 25-21, 25-16 and 25-23.
Afterward the crowd of 2,114 said goodbye to seniors Courtney Traxson, Kaitlynn Pelger, Dakota Kaufman, Courtney Cook, Tristan McCarty and Lilla Porubek.
“It’s never easy…” K-State head coach Suzie Fritz said of the departing senior class. “But you are so proud of them — so excited for what’s next for them.
“If we kept them all, we’d end up with 86 kids on the team, and we can’t do that either, so they’ve gotta go on and start their lives. They’re just kind of getting started, but to be part of that process is extraordinary.”
A trio of seniors led the Wildcats offensively as Traxson, Pelger and Kaufman notched 11, 10 and six kills respectively. Pelger also had a game-high five blocks and five assists, while McCarty joined in with a game-high two service aces to go along with eight digs. The Wildcats hit .191 for the match and scored seven total aces.
Fritz said that the Wildcats showed Saturday the team they have been capable of being all season.
“I though we played extremely well,” she said. “We put a lot of pressure on them from the service line. We were on task at the net, kept on a lot of balls and played tenacious defense. We played well in all areas.”
After grabbing the two-set lead to start the match, the Wildcats found themselves losing footing midway through the third after consecutive points gave Iowa State a 15-12 lead. It was then that Fritz called a timeout, and the seniors responded one last time with a little help from freshman setter Katie Brand.
Pelger opened a 6-2 K-State run with a kill, then joined Brand on a block. Two points later, Brand chipped in on another block, before Traxson gave the Cats the lead. And after a long rally that ended in an ISU side out, Traxson gave the Wildcats the lead for good with another kill at 18-17.
Pelger’s final kill — the 1,511th of her career -— gave the Wildcats a 23-21 lead. She joined Brand on another block to make it set-point a point later. Chelsea Keating, who came in with the seniors, but redshirted her first year here, gave K-State the 25-23 win in a fitting manner.
“It was great,” Keating said. “I came in with these girls, I’ll miss them They’re all my friends. It was so great to help get them that last win.”
The Wildcats got things off on the right foot with a solid attack in the first set. K-State notched 11 kills on .323 hitting, while taking advantage of five ISU service errors in the set, as Pelger’s team-high four kills led K-State to the 25-21 win.
K-State forced ISU into three straight errors to take a 14-12 lead midway through the game they would never relinquish.
Still, it would remain tight with the Cats grabbing the big lead of four points multiple times. A smash kill by Pelger gave K-State set point at 24-20 and two points later she hit ISU with another — this on a graceful slide-kill — to clinch the game win.
The Iowa State defense clamped down a bit in the second game, but its efficiency woes continued and the Wildcats took advantage. A stingy Wildcat defense allowed just five ISU kills on .000 hitting in the second. Four more service errors from the Cyclones allowed K-State to cruise to the comfortable nine-point win.
Brand had a game-high 26 assists, as well as a team-high 12 digs to help the Wildcats upset their third ranked opponent of the season.
Juniors Keating and Taylor Johnson joined with five kills each and six blocks between them.
“It is so awesome,” Pelger said. “Those girls are going to be great. They have a great career ahead of them. I was honored to play with them. I never have doubts in them. I know they can get it done when they need to get it done and they did.”
Though the Wildcats, who currently sit at No. 58 in the RPI, aren’t mathematically eliminated from an NCAA tournament berth, the chance of actually advancing to the postseason remains slim. Selections will be made today after the conclusion of conference tournaments around the country.