Adversity hit the Fort Hays State volleyball team before the first serve on Day 2 of the Tiger Classic.
FHSU sophomore Kayla Vitztum was sidelined by an injury she sustained during warmups Saturday morning, and Fort Hays struggled to find a rhythm in the day’s first match against Western Colorado, falling in three sets, 18-25, 19-25, 23-25.
But the Tigers ended the day with a confidence boost, wrapping up the Classic with a 3-1 win (20-25, 25-19, 25-19, 25-18) over Northwestern Oklahoma State at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
“We overcame some obstacles today on a lot of fronts — just kind of finding our rhythm and then we lost one of our players on a random play, which hurt a lot emotionally,” FHSU coach Jessica Wood-Atkins said. “What (the win) showed us is the heart of our team. It’s important. It’s a good win going into conference because we’re going to be playing matches like that every night.”
The Tigers got off to a rough start in the night match against NWOSU, committing 10 attack errors and two service errors in the first set. But FHSU finished strong in each of the next three sets, finishing the weekend 2-2 and improving to 3-5 on the season.
“They stayed focused,” Wood-Atkins said. “There were some weird plays tonight. You’ll end up losing a couple points if you get caught up in that kind of stuff. They did a good job of just resetting and playing through every single point.”
Freshman Delaney Humm paced the Tigers' offensive attack, matching her season high with 22 kills and adding 11 digs.
“She found a rhythm,” Wood-Atkins said. “She and our setters have been working really well together. She’s just smart; she sees the block and she knows how to abuse it.”
The match featured two Phillipsburg products with FHSU junior middle hitter Tatum Bartels and Northwestern Oklahoma State freshman middle hitter Alexi Beach.
Bartels turned in a strong performance in front of her hometown contingent, recording 17 kills and hitting .364.
“She put up some pretty high numbers as far as middles go,” Wood-Atkins said. “She was on fire. She was playing in front of her home crowd. She was happy to be playing for them and just having a good time.”
FHSU libero Abbie Hayes had a career-high 32 digs and setter Katie Darnell dished out a career-high 61 assists.
Fort Hays finished with a .241 attack percentage while NWOSU hit .184 for the match. The Rangers dropped to 5-4 on the season.
Wood-Atkins said Vitztum, a TMP-Marian product, will miss some time with the injury.
“We will be without Kayla for a while; I don’t know how long but she will back with us hopefully sooner rather than later,” Wood-Atkins said.
Wood-Atkins said she is seeing steady improvement from the Tigers, who play at No. 4-ranked Washburn on Friday before hosting Emporia State on Saturday.
“I think I’ve seen progress from them every single day,” she said. “That’s something that we knew was coming when we have so many new players together and a new setter running the offense. It was a little rocky at first, and now we’re seeing a good rhythm. And our bench has done a really, really good job of being ready for any situation.
"We're getting better by the day, and we're going to need that because we're going to see a bigger block and better defenders in the MIAA."