First match tonight of a neat little webcast double-header. This one's out of the Big 12, as cross-state rivals do battle in Lawrence. This match has implications for both teams. Kansas I think have done enough to feel secure about their spot in the NCAA tournament, but they need to keep working if they want to end up with a hosting gig. They've got a good shot at it, but losing to a lower team in the pecking order like K-State could well scuttle that chance. K-State badly need a signature road win (they haven't won a single road conference match) and knocking off a nationally ranked opponent would do wonders for their so-so tournament resume.
The house was a-rockin' in the early going, even as the Wildcats took the first lead of the night on 3-1. The crowd did that silly thing crowds do where they count down the time limit for serving way faster than any official ever would, and verbalise an "EEEEENNNNNNGGGGGHHHHHHH!" sound after hitting zero. I didn't catch who the server was, but she wasn't at all fazed. The serve wound up being overpassed for an easy kill on the K-State side. Kansas All-American middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc got the point back on the rally ending 4-all with the sort of play you see sometimes in beach but not really indoors — she went up for and got a block touch, and the ball just kind of floated for a second, so Jarmoc swatted at it again. That's the exception to the double contact rule, block touches, so she wound up getting the kill. A little later, the Jayhawks took their first lead with a big solo block from Sara McClinton that got the people up and shouting, but Chelsea Keating and Kaitlynn Pelger paid it back a moment later by blocking Tayler Soucie to give the Wildcats the lead again. Not long after that, Soucie got a solo block of her own.
Kansas State maintained a narrow lead through a slate of sideouts, taking us from 8-6 up to 13-11, with Courtney Traxson getting a lot of first-ball kills. The deadlock ended with back-to-back kills by Taylor Johnson taking us to the media timeout with the visiting Wildcats up 15-12. That brought us to the media timeout. While the Jayhawks took the first two after the timeout to draw back within a point, they later took their first charged timeout at 18-14 after a Wildcat sideout and consecutive Jayhawk hitting miscues made the deficit four. A line roll for Pelger brought us to 20-15 in favour of the Jayhawks. Chelsea Albers hit straight into a right-side double block, led by her namesake Chelsea Keating for the Wildcats, making it a six-point set. Catherine Carmichael's long hit on 22-16 made it a seven-point set, and the handwriting was on the wall. On 23-18, K-State setter Katie Brand curiously went for a dump shot rather than just siding out to victory. It was easily dug, and the Jayhawks' resulting hit went off the block and out. Their lead whittled to four, K-State took their first timeout.
Pelger got the first-ball sideout after the timeout, making it set point for the Wildcats. And then the Jayhawks practically gave it to them, as a Wildcat 'over-dig' sailed over the net and just dropped harmlessly in. Kansas stopped playing — I think they thought someone on the other side was going to be called in the net, but it didn't happen.
The differences in hitting efficiency were stark in set 1, as Kansas State's block held Kansas to just a .100 attacking percentage. The Wildcats themselves hit at .355, led notably by Pelger.
Keating started off set number 2 with an ace, but a point-for-point string ensued afterward. There were ties at each of the first six point marks. Eventually Soucie broke the deadlock, finding the floor to put her Jayhawks up 8-6. After the Kansas State sideout, 8-7 was then the longest rally of the match, ending with a kill for Pelgder to tie the set again. KU briefly took the lead again at 11-9, after serving specialist Maggie Anderson tossed up a beaut on her first try, leading to an out-of-system set and an easily dug hit from the other side. Just as quickly, though, the Wildcats got the point back, as Traxson found the floor to bring us to 11-all. The Wildcats scored on serve to go up 15-14 at the media timeout.
Kansas had a chance after the timeout. They took one on serve after siding out, and on 16-15 had the chance to take a two-point lead. An overpass sailed straight into Soucie's waiting hands, but the freshman smacked the ball a bit too hard, and it fell long. Carmichael got the sideout on 17-16, but it appeared that she shouldn't have, as replays showed she hit the ball into the antenna. And the string of ties went on anew. It wasn't all sideout after sideout, but neither side managed to reach a two-point advantage before set point at 24-23. It was Kansas who got there, with Jarmoc leading the way by slamming the ball home on a perfect quick-set up the middle. Unsurprisingly, the Wildcats expended a timeout there.
Pelger, the obvious and effective target for the set, got the kill to ward off set point. Her hit went off Carmichael's hands on the block touch, giving it kind of a knuckleball effect as it fluttered to the floor untouched. But Kansas' second try at set point was the winner, with Kansas setter Erin McNorton putting up an interesting little decoy. She had her shoulders turned such that it looked like she was trying for an underhand dump shot, but it was actually a picture-perfect set to Jarmoc for a kill off a regular old slide play. It worked beautifully, and with Kansas' 26-24 win, the teams went to intermission knotted at a set apiece.
Set 3 after the intermission started off tit-for-tat. Kansas got the first lead at 4-2 with a kill from Carmichael after a service reception miscue by K-State left them on their heels for most of the rally. Kansas then took their first three-point lead of the night at 7-4 with a kill from Soucie, doing what was pretty much a setter dump as everyone on both sides of the net looked a little lost for a split second. It fell in, and K-State called the earliest timeout of anyone all night right there.
On the 9-6 rally, Kansas finally blocked Pelger for the first time all night, with Carmichael and Soucie there for the rejection to put the Jayhawks up four. In a blink, the Jayhawks took the next point to go up five at 11-6, and the Wildcats expended their second and final timeout of the set. On the first rally back, Keating tried for a roll shot on the left side, but Albers timed her block nicely and sent the ball right back. The Wildcats got back within four on 13-9, but the Jayhawks made it back to a six-point lead at 16-10. On Jarmoc's serve at 18-11, the Jayhawks extended their lead to a commanding eight as the star middle blocker came up with a great dig leading to a big kill on the left side. On the next rally, it was pint-sized (well…compared to the tall trees she calls teammates) DS Cassie Wait getting the dig, also leading to a left-side kill.
The Wildcats managed to sideout on 20-12, but the damage was done. The Jayhawk lead made it all the way to ten on 24-14 after a kill for Soucie, and set point pretty much encapsulated the set, as Pelger hit into the net on a slide play. Just nothing went right for K-State after the first few points, and on we went to set 4.
K-State fought on undeterred. The 4th set started off with a string of ties, too. There were ties at every score up through 9-all, as it was suddenly a lot like set 2 again. The Wildcats caught something of a break on the rally ending at that score, as a phantom touch got called against the Jayhawks. Replays showed the call was incorrect. K-State followed that up with a double block against Jarmoc, which suddenly got the home crowd really quiet. KU equalised at 11-all with a kill from Jarmoc, and that got some of the home fans (probably the student section) up and shouting again. Brand sacrificed her body on the rally ending 12-all, as she wound up running headlong into the up referee's perch. She stayed with the play nicely, but the point wound up going to Kansas. And that's gotta suck. Give yourself a potential concussion (though she avoided hitting the post with her head, so there was no concern of that), you gotta at least get the point. A double block for McClinton and Soucie put the Jayhawks up a scant point at the media timeout.
A weird little roll shot from Soucie found the floor to make it 17-15 after the timeout, giving the Jayhawks a sideout-to-win chance. She followed that up with a more traditional point, a big solo block. It was aided by an unfortunate circumstance on the other side of the net, as Dakota Kaufman went to the ground for a dig and collided head-first with the leg of one of her teammates. Play was stopped for a moment, as Kaufman and K-State coach Susie Fritz conferred. It looked like Kaufman may indeed have concussed herself, She came out of the game in favour of Courtney Cook as play resumed. Give Fritz some credit — no doubt Kaufman was telling her she was fine, she could go back into the game, but sometimes you've got to take it out of the athlete's hands. Don't screw around with head injuries. The Jayhawks ran their lead up to 20-16, and K-State called time.
Carmichael got the sideout on another beach-esque play, as she passed to the setter off a roll shot from the other side, and got the kill herself as the set went right back to her. The Jayhawks took four of the next five, the last an unforced hitting error from Pelger, making it match point Kansas on 24-17. K-State called time there (too little too late, really), but could only ward off their reception match point. Jarmoc slammed the last winner home, and it was a final in 4.
#23 Kansas d. Kansas State (19-25, 26-24, 25-14, 25-18)
The bulk of set 3 and the end of set 4 was really the match I expected to see all night. The Jayhawks are the better team, and playing at home I expected them to more or less roll to the win. You've got to give some credit to the coaching staff, too. The Wildcat block, and Pelger in particular (both blocking and hitting), was unstoppable in the 'first half.' The Jayhawks went to the locker room having lost one set and having barely eked out a deuce game in the other. Some adjustments needed to be made, and I'll say that 25-14 and 25-18 mean those adjustments were made. Eyeball test, too. No longer did the Wildcat block rule the roost. Indeed, the Jayhawks ended up doubling their cross-state rivals up, 13 team blocks for the team in blue to 6.5 for the team in purple.
Traxson led all scorers for K-State, going 19/6/40 for .325. That'll do. The errors for Pelger really piled up in sets 3 and 4. 16/7/32 is not such a great hitting line for a middle blocker, especially not after the start she had (I believe she was errorless through her first 10 kills). K-State's problem really was that it was mostly just the two of them all night. As Kansas' block got more fine-tuned to deal with Pelger, maybe a cheat a little when lesser hitters like Johnson or Kaufman were front-row with her, that really slowed the Wildcat offence down. They hit .371 in sets 1 and 2, but just .099 after intermission (.234 for the night).
KU had a balanced attack, with Carmichael and McClinton each contributing 14 kills. Jarmoc added 12, and Soucie, notwithstanding her hitting miscues that belied a bit of inexperience, finished just shy of a double-double. She had 9 kills and 9 blocks (she and Jarmoc each had 2 solos).
Up next for Kansas is a rematch with Iowa State, who beat them in five sets earlier this season. I think the match means more to KU than it does to ISU, because the former have a chance to host in the NCAA tournament while the latter I really don't think are even in the conversation. The future is now for Kansas, as with seven seniors on the squad, there's little chance next season will be as good as this one. We'll see. Kansas State next get Baylor, at home.