SE: Volleyball Wins Varney’s Invitational

September 7, 2015
By Kelly McHugh-Stewart
K-State volleyball (5-1) went a perfect 3-0 over the weekend as the Wildcats downed Green Bay, Cal and UNLV (3-0, 3-1, 3-0, respectively) to be crowned the Varney’s Invitational champions. 
Taking place in Bramlage Coliseum, the entire Wildcat roster stepped up and came together to win the tournament title and extend their non-conference home winning streak to 20 matches.
“I liked the way we played,” said Wildcat head coach Suzie Fritz after the Wildcats swept UNLV on Saturday afternoon. “I thought we competed hard, and our chemistry was really strong. We have a lot of people doing a lot of things and I like the fact that we’re not a one-person show – there are a lot of people contributing right now and that’s really exciting.”
From top to bottom, the youthful team displayed poise and resilience on the court. It never let up, and, even when behind, it found a way to come back for the victory, such as when they dropped a narrow first set to Cal before capturing the match in four sets.
Outside hitter Alyssa Schultejans and middle blocker Zsofia Gyimes – both freshmen – played at home for the first time and each played key roles in the tournament win, while returners Kersten Kober, Bryna Vogel and Katie Reininger all contributed at important moments.
However, it was the play of two of the team’s upperclassmen, juniors Katie Brand and Brooke Sassin, that really put the Wildcats on top. Brand, after notching a tournament-best 138 total assists (a feat that helped her become the second-fastest Wildcat to reach 2,500 career assists), was named Varney’s Invitational MVP as well as to the all-tournament team. 
“We’re really excited on how this weekend went,” said Brand after recording her fourth double-double of the year against UNLV (43 assists, 16 digs). “We knew coming into it that there was going to be three solid teams and we knew it was going to be a tough weekend. We were down a couple of girls, but we really pulled together, played as a team and had great chemistry on the court.” 
Sassin was also named to the Varney’s Invitational All-Tournament team for her stellar performance on the court.
With sophomore outside hitter Kylee Zumach, last year’s kills leader and Big 12 Freshman of the Year, on the sidelines with an injury, Sassin knew there would be additional pressure on her shoulders. 
However, she did not let it get to her and led the Wildcats with a tournament-total of 40 kills (11 vs. Green bay, 10 vs. Cal, and 19 vs. UNLV).  
“Coming into the tournament having people hurt, it was questionable as to how it was going to go, but we have a lot of fight and I think everyone gave 100 percent the whole time. That’s what really helped us all win,” said Sassin.
It was not just this past weekend that Sassin shined. She has been a consistent force for the Wildcats since their trip to Miami in late August to start the season. Sassin is the first Wildcat since 2009 (JuliAnne Chisholm) to start a season with 10 or more kills in the first six matches as the San Antonio, Texas native leads the team with a total of 87 kills on the year. She is second in the Big 12 in both points per set (4.20) and kills per set (3.78) while also averaging 2.43 digs (fourth on the team).
“I’m very happy with the way I’ve started the season, but now I have to maintain it,” she explained. “It’s a lot on my shoulders. I’m happy with it, but I know I have a big role on this team so I have to step up every time I’m on the court.” 
With no seniors on this year’s Wildcat roster, Sassin is among the team’s few upperclassmen. She may have been new to the Wildcat volleyball program last year after transferring to K-State in 2014 from Mississippi State, but this year, she is looked as a team leader and has much more on her plate. 
“We’re asking Brooke to do a lot right now. She’s playing six rotations and I’m equally as proud of her for what she’s doing in the back row as for what she’s doing in the front row,” said Fritz. “It’s a load. It’s physically and mentally demanding to have to take on that much responsibility, and I’m proud of her because I think she’s handled it beautifully.”
Moving forward, the Wildcat volleyball squad next heads to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where it will compete in the Middle Tennessee Invitational. K-State’s first game of the tournament will take place at 4:30 p.m., on Friday against VCU, while the Wildcats will take on Seattle on Saturday at 10 a.m., and Middle Tennessee at 7:30 p.m.
“I liked what I saw at times; it’s still early in the year and I didn’t think it was always pretty, but I liked how our team competes and I like how they stayed together through some adverse situations,” said Fritz of the Varney’s Invitational as a whole. “They held together pretty well. For a young team they’re a little bit ahead in terms of their resilience… So my takeaway is that we have a chance to be a good volleyball team.” 

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