Wait for Wildcats is Over

For some of the Wildcats walking out of Horejsi Family Athletics Center on Wednesday night, the come-from-behind, five-set win over rival KU was not just their 14th win of the season. It was a relief.

 
It was the first K-State win against the Sunflower Showdown foes since 2011 as the Wildcats had lost four straight to the Jayhawks. For seniors Chelsea Keating (10 kills, 13 digs, 2 aces), Taylor Johnson and Gina Madonia (11 digs), they had not experienced that feeling of not only beating KU but also winning in Lawrence since they were freshmen. The fourth senior on the team, Natali Jones, had never experienced the taste of victory against KU. The Pratt Community College transfer redshirted her first season at K-State in 2011.
 
Another pair of Wildcats, redshirt sophomore Katie Brand and sophomore Kersten Kober, had a much shorter wait for their first win against KU. Brand, who had a double-double on Wednesday, and Kober, who led the team with 24 digs, were on the court last season when KU won both matches.
 
Despite the half dozen or so Wildcats who had never been a part of a win against KU, K-State's much-talked about youth (13 "newcomers," 14 total underclassmen) helped the Wildcats not carry any lasting memory of previous defeats at the hands of the Jayhawks into Wednesday's match. Of the 10 Wildcats who logged time in last night's win, half had never played against KU in a regular season match. 
 
Of those "newbies" to the rivalry that is between K-State and KU are outside hitters Kylee Zumach and Brooke Sassin. The two combined for 33 of K-State's 60 kills, including seven of the eight kills in the final set. Zumach, a freshman out of Buffalo, Minnesota, paced the Wildcats with 18 kills while Sassin, a sophomore transfer from Mississippi State, hit .351 and tallied 15 kills. The two have combined for more than half of the Wildcats' kills this entire season (405 combined kills/802 team kills).
 
"[Sassin] just played really smart," said K-State head coach Suzie Fritz about the sophomore on Wednesday. "Killed it when she had opportunities to kill it and managed it when she didn't; that's the hardest thing for an outside hitter to do. Anybody can jump up there and hit it, to be honest, but to hit it productively and manage a good situation is a whole other deal. Sassin is really good at that."
 
The Wildcats had to bounce back from a rough third set in terms of offense. K-State hit only .030 for the set, tallying eight kills but hurting themselves with seven attack errors. The hiccup for the K-State offense put the Wildcats down, 2-1, in the match.
 
K-State responded, however. Engaged in another back-and-forth affair through the early portion of the fourth set, the Wildcats began to pull away from the Jayhawks after KU hit a service error, one of its 13 in the match, to break up a 13-13 tie. K-State took advantage of the miscue and went on a 5-0 burst to pull away. The run featured two kills by Jones, who had seven total on the night, as well as a combo block by Sassin and Jones.
 
Jones played a key role in the K-State defense when it mattered most as she had a block assist on nine of K-State's 10 team blocks (officially 10.5 due to a triple block). The nine blocks by Jones were her most ever in a Big 12 match and fell one short of matching her overall career-high. The Wildcats, after allowing KU to hit higher than .300 in sets two and three, limited the Jayhawks to a .135 hitting percentage over the final two sets (22 kills, 12 errors, 74 attempts).
 
"I thought we were resilient," said Fritz. "We battled. We didn't do a whole lot to hurt ourselves, thus putting us in some good situations. We had a lot of people that played well and did several things right."
 
K-State was errorless in each facet of the match during the decisive fifth. KU, meanwhile, had six attack errors, two of which came on Wildcat blocks. K-State did not relent in the sold-out road environment as it snapped an 11-match losing streak in Big 12 road matches. The wait, ranging from short to long, was over for each and every Wildcat.
 
"We played really well when it mattered," said Fritz. "We got ourselves in a position to claw back in."
 
The Wildcats will continue to play on the road with their next match on Saturday, October 4 at Texas Tech. K-State is looking to win back-to-back contests in consecutive Big 12 road matches for the first time since 2004, a much longer wait compared to the ones ended on Wednesday in Lawrence.