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K-State sweeps Lipscomb in first round of NCAA tournament

The Wildcats managed a win in set one, but the next two sets were all K-State

Greg Woods

The dig came from Mattie Batchelder in the back of the court, the ball a mere inches from the floor.

Katie Brand positioned herself under the skying volleyball Saturday night, just like she always does, just like she always has since she played her first set for K-State in 2013. It’s second nature now.

Katie Reninger launched herself into the air and killed it, dooming NCAA tournament first-round foe Lipscomb to a set-one loss in Bramlage. After trailing by as much as six and grappling for the lead, the Wildcats had clawed back and vanquished the Bison in the first set.

The good news for K-State was that was all the momentum it needed to sweep Lipscomb (28-26, 25-15, 26-24) and earn a date with Ohio State in the second round Saturday night.

Head coach Susie Fritz was quick to dismiss the looming storyline, one that pits freshman Elle Sandbothe against her sister Taylor, Ohio State’s catalyst. That’s not what tomorrow is about. After all, K-State’s focus had been solely on Lipscomb since they learned of the matchup Sunday night.

The first and third sets followed a pattern: Lipscomb led for much of the set, but the Wildcats, egged on by the shrill, piercing Bramlage crowd, trimmed the deficit until they put the Bison in the dungeon.

The second set was the outlier. K-State’s lead ballooned as wide as 20-6 when Brand tipped what appeared to be a standard set over the net, landing in the middle of several trying Bison — just like she always has.

“I thought we were getting really good touches at the net,” senior Brooke Sassin said of her team’s win in set two. “(We were) slowing it down and being able to turn it in transition and get kills.”

The Wildcats cruised to a win, and another valiant comeback effort in the third set was enough to earn them a matchup with Ohio State Saturday, a match that could send K-State to its third Sweet 16 in program history.

But they had work to do Friday night.

“I thought we had tremendous composure throughout the course of the match,” Fritz said. “When they pressed us, I felt like we maintained really nice composure, just feeling like we were going to win the next point.”

They had to, naturally. K-State didn’t tie the first set until 20-20, and again at 26-26 before the Wildcats, at long last, captured the set.

They had to again in the third set, when they tied the set at 13-13, but Lipscomb dug another hole for K-State. But the Wildcats climbed out of it, in almost a mirror image of two sets previous, and tied it once again at 23-23. To roars of delight, K-State seized the following two points.

The Wildcats hit .374 for the match, and Sassin paced the team with 11 kills. Sophomore Kylee Zumach totaled nine, and Reninger, Sandbothe and junior Bryna Vogel all carded seven.

And it’s not the first time K-State has seen the balanced scoring effort in 2016 — in fact, it’s been a theme as the Wildcats finished with a 20-9 regular-season record.

“It was a team effort, really,” Brand said.

She was right, and that goes for K-State’s defense, too. Reninger led the Wildcats with six blocks, and Sandbothe totaled five of her own. Lipscomb was held to a .223 hitting percentage.

But Fritz wasn’t satisfied.

“They’re used to that,” she said. “We’ve got to be better on defense. I wanted to touch more balls. I wanted to stuff more balls. I wanted to dig more balls. And I think they do.”

If they’re going to, it will likely be due to the trust the starting core has developed with experience. This K-State team dropped a first-round match to Wichita State a year ago and was swept by Utah in the first round in 2014. That, on top of playing in the second-best conference in the nation, has done nothing but further the confidence they’ve fostered in one another.

“That’s been years — they’ve been at that for years, building that kind of composure and trust,” Fritz said.

Sassin’s thoughts weren’t far off.

“With the maturity and experience, even when it was getting kind of close here and there, I felt like we still knew we were going to win,” she said.

So K-State and Ohio State will meet Saturday night, in a matchup that not only features a matchup of sisters, but the Buckeyes were one of two teams to dethrone No. 1 overall seed Nebraska during the regular season.

But just like Fritz said about the accolades Lipscomb toted into Friday’s tilt, she likely doesn’t care. Because she knows her team is improving with each opponent it lays rest to.

“They’re still getting better,” she said. “And it’s December. And we’re still getting better, and it’s maybe the thing I’m most proud of.”

Instead, she and K-State will approach the matchup as a typical game, even if it isn’t. It will again happen under the lights of Bramlage Coliseum, a different venue than K-State has grown accustomed to, but several aspects will remain the same. Namely, Wildcat fans.

“That’s a big deal to us, that they came out for us tonight,” Fritz said. “We need them tomorrow.”

But how long will the Wildcats revel in the win?

Said Fritz: “Ten minutes.”