Wildcats Drop Opener to No. 11 Minnesota

OMAHA, Neb. - The No. 22 Kansas State Wildcats rallied from two sets down to force a pivotal fifth set against the No. 11 Minnesota Golden Gophers in their season opener but it was not enough as K-State lost an excitement-filled match 25-19, 25-16, 29-31, 24-26, 15-11 Friday night at the Runza/AVCA Showcase.

Head coach Suzie Fritz said it was a match that tested her young team and proved her Wildcats are ready to compete against some of the nation's top teams.

"Ultimately, we took too long to get warmed up," Fritz said. "We talked about what this team needs to be and they know what they need to be. We learned a lot from this match. We learned more than we did the last 17 days right there in the last two hours."

The Wildcats were led by a pair of outside hitters in redshirt freshman Kathleen Ludwig and junior JuliAnne Chisholm as Chisholm pounded out a career-high 19 kills and Ludwig tallied 18 kills in her K-State debut. Libero Lauren Mathewson picked up from last year's impressive sophomore season with 27 digs and three service aces.

Ludwig had a complete match for the Wildcats with impressive numbers across the boxscore. In addition to her 18 kills and .267 hitting percentage, Ludwig had five digs, five aces and four blocks. Fritz said it was a great start for Ludwig and just what she expected from the redshirt freshman.

"I think the key is to get her going earlier than we did," Fritz said. "I think those are the expectations for Ludwig. I don't think what she did was a surprise to anybody that's involved with our team."

In the final set, K-State (0-1) opened an early 7-4 lead before a service error by Kelsey Chipman gave Minnesota (1-0) a chance to breathe. The Gophers came back with three straight points on their serve to take an 8-7 lead going into a media timeout and side switch. Minnesota continued to inch its way closer to the win with two more points to lead 10-7.

The Wildcats fought off three match points to pull within 14-11, but it was not enough as Minnesota split the defense on a kill to win the nearly two-and-a-half-hour match.

Minnesota was led by Brook Dieter with 18 kills and Lauren Gibbemeyer with 17 as the pair of All-Americans helped the Gophers hit .294 as a team. K-State hit just .168 as a team but thanks to strong serving was able to keep the Gopher defense off balance and take advantage of 10 aces to just one by Minnesota.

The Wildcats opened an early lead in the first set only to watch the Gophers rally to reclaim the lead with six straight points. K-State answered the bell and regained the lead again as the two teams battled back and forth.

K-State fell behind by as many as seven points before the Wildcats were able to cut into the lead with a 4-1 run to trail 22-18. Minnesota closed the door, however, for the 25-19 win to open the match. The Gophers outscored the Wildcats 13-6 after K-State tied the set at 12-12.

The Wildcats trailed early in the second set but battled back as they used back-to-back solo blocks from Chisholm to tie the score at 15-15. Minnesota scored the next point heading into a media timeout and K-State could not rekindle the momentum gained just before the timeout as the Gophers scored four straight points to lead 20-15. That margin would prove too much as Minnesota kept hold of the momentum, closing the set with a 10-1 run and taking a 2-0 lead into the locker room at the break.

A see-saw battle ensued coming out of the intermission before the Wildcats were able to open the first large lead with a rally midway through the third set. With the score tied at 14-14, K-State posted the next two points to lead 16-14 into the media timeout. A kill by Ludwig then gave K-State the first three-point lead of the set. Minnesota answered with a point, but two more by the Wildcats forced a Gopher timeout with K-State holding a 19-15 advantage.

Both teams answered points back and forth before Minnesota put a three-point rally together to pull within 21-20, forcing K-State to use its timeout for the set.

K-State and Minnesota continued to fight as the third set went to extra points following the timeout. It took a total of eight set points before K-State got the win 31-29. Minnesota was able to fight off five set points and K-State held off the Gophers twice after Minnesota rallied to claim the lead.

An ace by Mathewson was the spark the Wildcats needed to gain the edge to win the set. Mathewson's ace came after an attack error by Minnesota and gave the Wildcats a 28-27 advantage. Minnesota answered with back-to-back kills, but K-State would not quit. A block by Chipman forced the match to continue, and Chipman added a kill on an overpass, setting up set point. Ludwig answered the call for a dramatic finish with an ace for the win to keep the Wildcats alive.

The fourth set opened like the three previous sets with neither team gaining much of an advantage with each snatching momentum away from the other at key points to avoid long scoring rallies. Minnesota was able to score four straight points to build a lead of 12-9, but K-State pulled within two points and later trailed by three at 16-13 heading into the media timeout.

The Wildcats came out of the timeout with three straight points to tie the set thanks to two kills from Chisholm and a stuff block by Ludwig and Sarah Allison. Chisholm's second kill in the run came in a long rally with both teams coming up with crucial digs to keep the point alive. As Chisholm tallied the kill the crowd gave a standing ovation in recognition of the hard-fought point.

The battle continued and it was a race to five points to see if the match would continue for K-State or result in a win for the Gophers with the score tied 20-20. Minnesota scored three straight points to paint the Wildcats into a corner, but K-State pushed right back with three points to force another tie at 23-23.

A service error by Chipman appeared to deflate the Wildcats' chances facing match point, but K-State proved its resiliency with a power kill and a tip by Chisholm as she continued to build on her career high. Setter Soriana Pacheco kept the drama high with an ace to send the match to a decisive fifth set 26-24.

K-State will be back in action for day two of the Runza/AVCA Showcase from the Qwest Center in Omaha as the Wildcats take on the No. 16 Michigan Wolverines. Fans can watch the match live on CBS College Sports in HD as this weekend's AVCA Showcase will be the only volleyball matches this season broadcast in HD according to producers. First serve is set for 6 p.m., and fans without CBS College Sports can listen to the match on 1350 KMAN with Brian Smoller calling the action.

- k-statesports.com -