KAZAN, Russia – In the final match of pool play at the World University Games, Team USA was up against the host nation Russia in a match that would pit the Americans against what head coach Suzie Fritz called the best team in the field. The Kansas State volleyball team saw Olympians on the other side of the net for a team the Wildcats may never see the equal of again.
Team USA fell in straight sets 16-25, 23-25, 19-25 and had a large lead late in the second set for the second day in a row to nearly take down the giants from Russia.
“We came into it thinking this would be one of the greatest teams we ever play in our lives unless we represent the U.S. as an Olympian,” said middle blocker Taylor Johnson. “Obviously, the first set was kind of shaky, but we gave it our all and really worked for it and didn’t back down. Overall, it was a great experience. We would love to play them again, but unfortunately that’s not an opportunity. It was a really well-fought game.”
USA was unable to hold a lead in the opening frame, but responded well in the second set. A 4-0 run that saw a pair of kills from Kansas State senior Kaitlynn Pelger and an ace from junior Chelsea Keating gave the Wildcats a 13-8 advantage. The five-point lead was the largest the team could build, using back-to-back kills from Dakota Kaufman to again extend the lead to five points and lead 22-17, pushing Russia into a corner.
The Russians answered with a 7-0 run of their own to reclaim the lead and grab set point leading 24-22. Another kill from Keating would keep USA alive, but it was not enough with Russia getting a kill to win the second set and take a 2-0 lead in the match.
“I thought some of our outsides really stepped up. I thought Chelsea and Dakota, they handled balls. They killed balls. They blocked balls. They really got us going. They passed well,” Johnson said. “We really just got it going and it was really nice to see against a very big, tall team that we didn’t get blocked very often.”
In the third set, Russia was able to build an early lead with a 6-0 run to go up 8-2. Another 5-0 run would prevent a comeback by the Americans. Russia would lead by as many as 10 points in the third set and Team USA was able to cut that lead to only four points but it was too little too late to make more of a push before falling 25-19.
Kaufman led the U.S. with nine kills on the day while Keating added eight kills and two aces. Redshirt freshman Katie Brand had three service aces to provide pressure, and Kaitlynn Pelger contributed six kills.
The loss to Russia concludes pool play for Kansas State and the team will ready for a match with Slovakia on Friday at 9 a.m. Central in bracket play.
The team is off on Thursday and has plans to attend a men’s volleyball match to cheer on the Springfield College men’s team as they conclude pool play against Korea at 6 a.m. Central. K-State also has plans to watch Team USA play basketball on Thursday as well. The men’s volleyball team cheered on the Wildcats during their match against Czech Republic on Tuesday.