MANHATTAN, Kan. – K-State volleyball faced its toughest test of the season on Saturday night and put up a fight against No. 9 Texas but came up short taking only its second loss on the year. The Wildcats fell 17-25, 28-30, 15-25 to the Longhorns in a match that saw some of the top players in the Big 12 Conference battle it out on the court.
Sophomore Haley Eckerman led Texas (13-3, 6-0) with 19 kills over the three sets and hit an impressive .417 on her 36 swings. K-State middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger also put on a show as she pounded out 15 kills. The two traded blows and kept pace with each other for much of the match until the Longhorns pulled away in the third set on the arm of Eckerman.
Bailey Webster represented UT’s second main threat on offense and she, too, reached double digits with 11 kills. The Longhorns hit .339 as a team compared to just .123 for the Wildcats.
K-State (16-2, 3-2) also saw senior middle blocker Alex Muff post double digits in kills as she tallied 10 while hitting .353 to go along with her team-high four blocks. Defensively, senior libero Kuulei Kabalis had 15 digs, but she and the Wildcats could not slow Texas down enough.
“I think we scrapped. I think defensively we slowed Webster down, which is something that we knew we needed to do, but there were others that got away from us,” Head Coach Suzie Fritz said. “Texas has tremendous athletes. There’s a reason they’re a perennial type of team every year. They are tremendously gifted.”
The Wildcats were hanging close with the Longhorns in the first set until Texas went on a 7-0 run to finish off the first set after K-State pulled within one point. K-State had a chance to strike in the second set but let it slip away.
With set point at 24-21, Kabalis had a service error. After some back and forth, K-State again took the lead but saw Pelger serve the ball into the net, letting another set point falter. Texas would find a way to fight off the Wildcats and reclaim the lead before finally winning the set in extra points.
“We need to take care of opportunities,” Fritz said. “The momentum changed going into the third. It would have been a nice situation going 1-1 against Texas into the third versus going down 0-2. They are not a team that will allow you to make a lot of unforced errors. We made some untimely errors in the third and untimely serving errors in the second.”
It was all Texas in the third set as the Wildcats trailed by five points early on and were unable to chip away into the deficit. Muff said her team played well at times but too many mistakes turned out to cost the Wildcats an opportunity to get a win against one of the top teams in the country.
“With a little bit of momentum in the second set, if we could have won, I think we would have come out in the third set a little bit more ready and with a little bit more energy,” Muff said. “Against a good team you have to do the little things well and still play well overall.”
K-State has a midweek bye coming up and will take the court again next Saturday when the Wildcats travel to TCU. It will be the first time the two teams will have met on the volleyball court with the Horned Frogs joining the Big 12 Conference this year. First serve is set for 1 p.m. from Fort Worth.