College Volleyball: Kansas State vs. Omaha

Kansas State setter Sarah Dixon (4) dives on the floor for a ball during the match against Omaha in 2018 at Ahearn Field House during the K-State Invitational. K-State lost to No. 4 Texas in straight sets Wednesday.

Watch the film on Kansas State’s home matchup with No. 4 Texas Wednesday night, and it would be hard to tell which side left victors.

Check out the scoreboard and it would be far easier.

Texas swept K-State, 3-0 (32-20, 25-17, 25-18) at Ahearn Fieldhouse, though the real tale of the match was in the details. Each set was a back-and-forth battle. The first featured scores in the 30s.

The problem for the hosts was that none went their way.

“They’re a huge team,” said K-State outside hitter Anna Dixon, who led her group with 14 kills. “We knew that coming in we were going to have big blocks against us, so we wanted to stay calm, collected.”

To Dixon’s point, Texas was a tall team. The Longhorns finished with 10 team blocks and held the Wildcats to a .096 hitting percentage. That made it hard for the hosts to generate any type of consistent offense.

What made it interesting was that K-State kept things close.

Set 1 set the stage for what seemed would turn into a tight match. It featured 15 ties and six lead changes and several attack errors that prolonged what could have been a far shorter opening game.

Instead, the sides went back-and-forth, trading blows and errors until Texas used a kill from Brionne Butler and another from Micaya White to seal the 32-30 set win.

For K-State, it was as encouraging as a set loss gets. The Wildcats (6-10, 1-3 Big 12) fended off several set points, responded to their unforced errors and made several key digs. If they were going to fall, they were going to do so guns blazing.

That just never came to fruition across the next two sets.

The second proved less competitive. The Longhorns (10-2, 4-0) raced out to a 7-2 lead, and while the Wildcats battled back and drew within a point at 16-15, the visitors kept the lead.

Kept K-State at arm’s length, really, until Logan Eggleston and Brionne rattled off back-to-back kills to claim a 2-0 match lead.

Same thing happened in the third set. K-State was never out of it, really, but the Wildcats never were in command, either. They hung around, in other words, but that won’t win many matches against the nation’s fourth-ranked team.

K-State has now lost five of its last six matches.

“There’s really not a lot of moral victories. Losing is losing,” K-State coach Suzie Fritz said. “We’re not going into the match trying to play close. We’re trying to go into the match and trying to win.”

The one constant for K-State, at least on the positive end: Dixon, a starter at outside hitter. Not only did the freshman finish with 14 kills, but she made a few heads-up plays, including in the tight first set. She provided offense for a team that has had trouble producing it lately.

She’s also been trending in the right direction. On Saturday, K-State was swept by top-ranked Baylor, but Dixon supplied 10 kills.

That’s important on its own merits, but when one looks at the Wildcats’ depleted roster, it shows just how crucial she has been. K-State entered this season with losses at the following positions: two at libero, three at middle blocker and three at outside hitter. Over the offseason, the Wildcats bid farewell to a giant chunk of their offensive production.

To be exact: This season, K-State returned just 37% of its kills. The Wildcats also returned just two of their top seven kill-producers: middle blocker Peyton Williams and opposite hitter Gloria Mutiri.

Translation: It’s early into the Big 12 slate, but Dixon has proven invaluable, especially considering the circumstances.

“I thought she managed her swings pretty well,” Fritz said. “We put her in a situation where she had to go hit mostly out-of-system stuff, and against a big block. I think she took pretty well-managed swings and generated kill production when she could.”

The good news for the Wildcats is that this difficult stretch is over. In the span of four days, K-State faced No. 1 Baylor and No. 4 Texas, the two best teams in the conference. This always was going to be a challenge.

Now, K-State will turn its attention to a home matchup with West Virginia, set for 1 p.m. Saturday.

“We had an opportunity at the end of Game 1, and missed a couple of key serves in crucial moments,” Fritz said. “Those are ones we’ve got to have. We’ve got to have those back. We’re trying to learn through those and be able to be a little bit better under pressure — in those two skills particularly.”

Freshman sidelined with injury

K-State freshman setter Dru Kuck didn’t suit out on Wednesday because she has a broken finger. The team expects her to miss the next couple weeks with the injury, which she suffered on Oct. 2.

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