Aug 31, 2013
LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Kansas State was forced to five sets for the second time in as many matches, but the Wildcats' (2-0) defense carried them to a 3-2 win over Cal State Fullerton (0-2) in the UNLV Invitational at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas.
The Wildcats totaled 101 digs and 18 team blocks to hold off the Titans comeback. Kansas State captured the first two sets, but Fullerton forced the fifth set with two consecutive wins of their own.
Senior Tristan McCarty recorded a career-high 27 digs to lead the Wildcats defensively. For one of the team captains, McCarty made sure her and her teammates stayed calm and focused in the last half of the match.
"Two things come to mind in those moments: 'not if, but when' and 'breathe, believe, battle,'" said McCarty. "Those are the two things we keep in our minds and something we like to say out loud once in awhile as a reminder to ourselves and our teammates. The two things are calming effects, but also help motivate ourselves."
Five different Kansas State players had 10 or more digs, with senior Kaitlynn Pelger tallying 10 to go along with her 11 kills and five blocks.
Taylor Johnson led Kansas State with seven blocks while Katie Brand and Natali Jones each contributed five blocks.
"We realized last night our condition and posture could have been improved in the match against Portland, so we put a little more focus on the defensive side of things today," said McCarty.
Senior Lilla Porubek powered the Wildcats offense in the latter part of Kansas State's 25-20 first set victory when she came alive for five kills. Her first kill of the match made it 16-14, igniting an 8-3 Kansas State run. Porubek's fifth kill capped the run and gave the Wildcats a 23-17 advantage.
In the second set, K-State trailed 15-13 but used five unanswered points to build an 18-15 lead. Four Fullerton errors helped the Wildcats gain the advantage. Kills from Chelsea Keating and Courtney
Traxson opened a 22-17 lead for the Wildcats, but after a Fullerton timeout, the advantage dwindled to 22-20. The Titans went on to even the score at 22-22, but back-to-back kills from Traxson ended the 5-0 Titans run.
Consecutive blocks from Porubek and Jones ended the set in extra points, 27-25. The Wildcats had eight team blocks through the first two sets, matching their entire blocks output from Friday night against Portland.
The third set is where the match turned against the Wildcats. Seven straight points from Fullerton put Kansas State down 9-3, but K-State went on its own run to bring it within two, 9-7. Johnson, a night after setting a career-high in kills, had two kills to help power the run. Strong net play, a theme for the Wildcats all morning, sustained rallies during the 4-0 run.
Three straight blocks followed a Pelger set-tying kill to give the Wildcats a 13-10 lead. Pelger was involved on two of the three blocks, her first blocks of the match. Pelger had three kills and three blocks in the third set while Johnson had four kills and two blocks.
Fullerton rattled off five points, though, to capture the third set 25-21.
"These are good teams we are facing this weekend," said McCarty. "The middle of the third set put us back a little bit as they stepped up defensively, but it's not anything we cannot manage. We have to make sure we put the pedal to floor in the third set and finish them out."
After a hard fought fourth set in which the Wildcats lost 25-23, Kansas State grabbed a quick 4-0 lead in the fifth set. The Titans came back and led 11-10 before the Wildcats defense surfaced again. Johnson and Dakota Kaufman combined for a block to return the lead to the Wildcats 12-11 and later Pelger and Traxson made it 14-12 with Kansas State's 18th and final team block of the match.
Alyse Hensley led Fullerton with 18 kills on 58 swings. She also had 21 digs and three blocks. The Titans had 12 blocks and 102 digs.
The Wildcats will wrap up the UNLV Invitational tonight with a 7 pm PT/9 pm CT match against host UNLV.