When Audra Appold sent a missile of a kill over the net Saturday night, it seemed done. It seemed over.
It seemed the deed had been done, that Ohio State, now up 2-0 on Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Manhattan, Kan., would cruise to a sweep with a win in the third set.
What followed was quite the opposite.
Instead, the Wildcats flipped a switch and claimed both the third and fourth sets, urged on by the fervent Bramlage Coliseum crowd.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, that’s where the road stopped for K-State: Ohio State eked out a 17-15 win in set five en route to a 25-20, 25-22, 22-25, 23-25, 17-15 five-set win, good for a Sweet 16 matchup with Big 10 foe Wisconsin.
“It was an epic match, it really was,” head coach Geoff Carlson said. “Hats off to K-State; they made some really great adjustments. That was just a game of heart by two really, really, really great teams.”
Outside hitter Luisa Schirmer paced Ohio State in kills with 21, a game-high, on top of 10 digs and five blocks. Middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe, sister of K-State freshman Elle Sandbothe, added 15 kills, four digs and eight blocks. As a team, Ohio State finished with a .185 hitting percentage.
But Ohio State had work to do before the reward of a third match with the Badgers this season, and it wasn’t easy for the Buckeyes.
Though it did seem so early on. Ohio State jumped out to a 16-6 lead in set one, and though K-State hinted at a future comeback with a small resurgence in the set, it was far too late. The Buckeyes claimed set one.
They did the same to set two, though in more narrow fashion. Ohio State never managed more than a four-point lead, but it was enough for another win.
But that’s where things changed.
“It was more them than us,” Carlson said.
Kansas State used an early 4-0 run to bolt out to a 9-4 lead, made tighter when the Buckeyes rallied to tie the set at 13, but the quick runs the Wildcats pieced together were the difference in their 25-22 win.
Ohio State was again presented the chance to slam the door shut in the fourth set, but K-State refused to cave. The Wildcats carded 13 kills in set four alone, and two separate 3-0 Buckeye spurts weren’t enough to end things in four.
Kansas State opposite hitter Bryna Vogel sent the match to five sets with an emphatic, vigorous kill. To five it would go.
And the fifth and final set followed the pattern the previous two sets would have suggested: an airtight, seesaw affair that, fittingly, came down to the final points. The stadium sat in anticipation after outside hitter Ashley Wenz’s kill sent it to match point, and in heartbreak when the ball tumbled to the ground after a kill from Schirmer.
The Buckeyes wouldn’t have had it any other way. They had escaped.
“We really crystallized what it means to fight for each other and work for each other,” Sandbothe said. “That’s something that being in the Big 10 has taught us.”
For Sandbothe, playing with her younger sister across the net meant a different kind of match, one that changed the way she played, if only in trivial ways.
“I told her I wasn’t going to be able to look at her during the match because she’s just so cute,” Sandbothe said. “She reminds me so much of everything that I love.”
So the Buckeyes will advance to a Sweet 16 tilt with Wisconsin, the very team the Buckeyes dropped both regular-season meetings to earlier this season. The teams are no strangers, and Carlson hopes the fortunes are flipped in the looming matchup.
“We know Wisconsin. They’re in the Big 10; they’re pretty good,” he said with a smile. “We’re going to enjoy this one for sure, and I couldn’t be prouder of these two and the whole team, actually.”