Wildcats Sweep Through Varney's Invitational
"I thought we played pretty well for it being this early in the year," said K-State head coach Suzie Fritz. "I still think we have plenty to work on, but for it being early September, and having a relatively young roster, I think things are starting to come together nicely."
Throughout the tournament, Wildcat newcomers worked together with the returning veterans to put on a show.
Freshman Kylee Zumach led the tournament with 36 total kills in the three matches, and earned the tournament's MVP award.
"Well it's pretty cool - it's a big surprise," said Zumach about the honor after the Wildcats' win over UCF on Saturday evening. "It's kind of cliché, but I couldn't have done it without my team. We had great defense all tournament, and Katie (Brand) was putting up great sets all tournament."
Along with Zumach's MVP honors, redshirt sophomores Brand and Katie Reininger earned spots on the all-tournament team. Brand recorded 113 assists throughout the tournament including setting a season-high with 40 assists on two occasions, first against Arkansas and then versus UCF. Reininger put away 27 kills, but led her team on Saturday evening with a career-high 14 kills in a tight matchup against the Knights.
"I just look at it as playing the game," said Reininger when asked about her stellar performance on Saturday. "It's awesome that I got into a great rhythm with nice passing and great setting. I couldn't have gotten those big plays had we not been in such good rhythm as a team. I just look at it as my job, and they helped me do it."
On Saturday evening, K-State defeated previously undefeated UCF, 3-0 (25-18, 25-23, 26-24). Going into the match, both teams were 2-0 at the Varney's Invitational, and though K-State got the sweep, it was anything but easy.
In the match's first set, the Wildcats defeated UCF behind four kills from Reininger and 12 assists from Brand. Stepping it up in the second set, the Knights kept the score close and, despite trailing early on, K-State regrouped, refocused and got back in the game. Led by senior Chelsea Keating's six kills, the Wildcats took the second set, 25-23.
All the way to the final point, the third set was filled with emotion. Despite 12 ties and seven lead changes in the final set, back-to-back kills from Reininger put the Wildcats on top, 25-24. In the end, the young K-State team took the set 26-24, after a crafty final kill by Brand.
"I think those are the kind of matches we want to be in right now," explained Fritz. "The kind that tests your ability to stay focused over time. They test your composure, and they test your team under pressure and I think it's really good for us...particularly if we can be on the right end of it."
The Wildcats kicked off the tournament last Thursday with a sweep of the Arkansas Razorbacks (25-18, 25-15, 25-16). Sophomore Brooke Sassin led the way with a team-high 15 kills while Keating (11) and Zumach (12) also reached double figures in kills.
The following evening, the Wildcats notched its fourth sweep of the season as the team beat Middle Tennessee 3-0 (25-21, 25-15, 25-17). It was Brand who stood out during the win as she recorded a match-high 33 assists and also had seven digs, three kills and three blocks.
K-State will be back in action tonight at 5 p.m. as it is set to take on Missouri Sate in Ahearn Field House. For more on tonight's game, click here.
"That's home, and home is home. That's where we are at most of the time and it feels comfortable in there," said Fritz about her team's return to Ahearn Field House. "(Bramlage) has been tremendous. It's a great venue to host a tournament-type setting, but I think when we get back into that one-match swing, it'll be nice to get back into Ahearn and get it loud, get it hot, get it rocking."