The season is young, so the story of this Kansas State volleyball season has yet to be written.
The soundtrack, however, has: It’s Jason Derulo’s “Trumpets.”
As the clock neared 9 p.m. Thursday night at Bramlage Coliseum and K-State found itself locked in a 2-2 match tie with Clemson, officials went to the monitors to review a play. To pass the time, several Wildcats huddled up and danced to the track, keeping their spirits up even as they knew about the difficult task ahead — finishing a wild comeback.
K-State had fallen into a quick 2-0 hole before it won the next two sets, forcing a decisive fifth, so it would have been reasonable to expect some Wildcats — especially the younger ones — to be nervous, at least a tad.
That’s where junior middle blocker Peyton Williams came in.
“I found myself just saying, ‘Hey, we’re fine. Calm down. Shake it off,’” Williams said. “‘You’re good. You’re good.’ That’s what I say a lot.”
Williams provided 13 kills and just the right advice to help K-State hold on and claim a 3-2 (16-25, 21-25, 25-20, 25-19, 16-14), home-opening win over Clemson, kicking off the annual K-State Invitational just as the team envisioned.
It counted as the team’s home opener because it was the first match of the season the Wildcats played in Manhattan, but this wasn’t Ahearn Fieldhouse, where they play most home matches.
The hosts didn’t play like they noticed any difference, at least in the final three sets.
Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Brynn Carlson tallied a team-best 16 kills while sophomore opposite hitter Gloria Mutiri added 11, giving the Wildcats three players with double-figure kill totals.
K-State also got nine from freshman outside hitter Anna Dixon, one of the 13 freshmen and sophomores — the program’s most since 2014 — on this year’s roster. She, along with underclassmen Megan Vernon, Holle Bonde, Dru Kuck, Abigail Archibong and Loren Hinkle were instrumental in this win.
Which wasn’t just any win, by the way. The Wildcats handed the Tigers their first loss of the season — in dramatic fashion.
So it stands to reason that the victory could pay dividends for the younger Wildcats.
“They were a little bit all over the place in the beginning, and that’s fine,” Williams said. “That’s going to happen with freshmen sometimes. They did a really good job of noticing it and reeling it back in.”
Still, the differences in sets were stark. Clemson won the first handily and the second by a slimmer margin, but either way, the visitors headed into Set 3 with the look of a team ready to put things away quickly.
K-State turned that on its head. In Set 3, the Wildcats seized a lead as large as seven points, pulling away by winning two of the final three.
The fourth set followed a similar script when it reached its end. K-State used a 4-0 run to tie the match, getting an ace from Kuck to seal the set win.
In the fifth set, K-State had to fight off a run. The Tigers leveled the set at 14-14 with a 3-0 run, but when the Wildcats benefited from an attack error and Mutiri registered the final kill, Bramlage erupted.
The comeback was complete.
“I think (the difference was) cleaning it up on multiple levels,” Williams said. “I think we were more aggressive with our serve and with our swings. I think we were smarter with our swings, too. Our passing stayed pretty good the whole time, but we also just fought harder through a lot of it.”
The win will do at least a little to sooth the rugged offseason K-State experienced. The Wildcats lost several pieces they were expecting to in six seniors, but they also lost two they weren’t: Elle Sandbothe, who transferred to Ohio State, and Brooke Heyne, who suffered a career-ending injury.
It may take some time for the Wildcats to find their groove without those players, but the good news for them is that they didn’t play like it Thursday night.
K-State will return to action Friday night to host Omaha.
In Bramlage, that is.
“It’s a little different, obviously. It’s a little darker and more ominous,” Williams said with a laugh, comparing Bramlage to Ahearn. “I think it was a great experience. To have the fans that we did, that was awesome, and to see some of the students come out, too, making the trek from campus, it was really cool.”