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Wildcats sweep No. 25 OU

By Nicolas Wahl

Kansas State senior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger had a match-high 17 kills on .481 hitting to lead the Wildcats to a three-set sweep of No. 25 Oklahoma — 25-22, 29-27, 25-22 — in a rare Sunday night match at Ahearn Field House.

The odd scheduling, which moved the match from Oct. 30, due to transportation problems for Oklahoma (18-6, 6-4 Big 12), did little to throw off the rhythm of the Wildcats (15-7, 3-6).

“We haven’t played that way for a while,” Pelger said. “In the (nonconference) that’s the way we played, and we finally got that fight back.  We fought to win every single point. We played to win, like Coach talked about after the match.”

The win marked the first time that the Wildcats have posted a sweep over a ranked Oklahoma team since the 2002 season. It was K-State’s second win over a ranked opponent this season. They beat then-No. 23 California on Sept. 14.

Senior outside hitter Courtney Traxson complemented Pelger with 13 kills of her own on .391 hitting to keep pressure on the Sooners from the outset. As a team, K-State was relentless on the attack, posting 45 total kills on .266 hitting.

“We’ve set five goals for the rest of the season and one of them is first contact and killing more balls,” Traxson said. “Putting that into effect, like (Pelger) said, Katie Brand put us in great position. The hitters were seeing the block or using the block and finding the holes.  Oklahoma is a great defensive team, so for us to hit so well is good for us.”

Brand led all players with 38 assists.

K-State spread 39 total digs among eight players, as Brand led the way with eight. Junior outside hitter Chelsea Keating was a force on the defensive front, stepping in with two solo blocks and three block assists. The Wildcats posted 11 total blocks on the night.

“It just goes back to playing every point to win,” K-State head coach Suzie Fritz said. “Being willing to make extraordinary effort to keep the ball in play.  I think we saw that in a lot of areas.”

A run of five straight kills by Pelger provided the Wildcats with all the space they would need in the opening set. K-State trailed 11-9, but after Pelger killed a ball off of an errant Oklahoma set to cap off her one-woman run the Wildcats had surged ahead by three at 14-11. 

“The thing I was most proud of is the way we fought,” Fritz said. “We didn’t back down.  When we lost momentum, we fought to get it back.”

K-State would never trail from that point forward.  The Sooners would cut the Wildcat lead to 22-21 after a Chelsea Keating service error, but Pelger responded immediately for the Wildcats. 

The senior scored back-to-back points on a kill and then a line-drive service ace that landed just inside the back line to give K-State set point. Brand finished off the Sooners a point later on a kill where she feigned a set then sent the ball onto the OU floor for the 25-22 Wildcat win.

The second set saw K-State erase an 18-21 deficit before the two teams battled into extra points. 

K-State rode the momentum of its first-set win to an early 5-1 lead when Taylor Johnson scored quick kill off of a bad Sooner dig, but Oklahoma fired back with a run of its own. The Big 12’s most accurate attacker, Sallie McLaurin, went high for a block in the middle to tie it at five, and capped off six straight OU points with a kill to put the Wildcats in a 7-5 hole. 

The two teams then battled through six ties, and two lead changes before OU built its aforementioned lead. But three Oklahoma errors helped tie it 22-22. Two plays later, after a finesse slide-kill by Pelger landed softly on the OU side, she hustled for a dig that led to another Sooner attack error to give the Wildcats set point at 24-23. 

A kill by junior outside hitter Dakota Kaufman gave K-State another set point at 28-27. Keating finished it off with a giant solo block to give the Wildcats the set at 29-27.

“When you talk about aggressiveness, that’s kind of (Keating’s) thing,” Fritz said. “I think she needs to stay true to that identity.”

K-State came out after the intermission and ran off the first four points of the deciding third set. That gave the Wildcats all the cushion they needed, as they never relinquished the lead. 

Oklahoma pulled close on a couple of occasions, but after a McLaurin kill made it 14-13 K-State, Traxson bookended a 4-0 Wildcat run with two kills — the latter coming after a long rally with multiple saves and hustle plays by both teams that sent the 1,815 fans in attendance into their most frenzied pitch of the night. 

K-State would ride that momentum to earn match point at 24-17.  The Sooners ran off six straight points to pull within two at 24-22, but Pelger ended the match for the Wildcats with another finesse kill to give K-State the set and the sweep.

The Wildcats play at Texas Tech on Wednesday before returning to Manhattan for a home match on Saturday against West Virginia, beginning at 7 p.m.

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