Try and remember, if you can, that week in August when it was unclear who exactly K-State Football was going to play this season.
Or how about when K-State Women’s Basketball sat around for most of January with the program in COVID-19 protocol? K-State Volleyball played half their season in the spring and the women of K-State Rowing went more than a year without racing against another school.
Pick a sport, pick an athlete, this season challenged every single member of the K-State Family. And yet there was still some socially distanced magic in Manhattan.
After K-State Track & Field brought the 2020-21 season to a close at the 2021 NCAA Outdoor Championship in Oregon, here are the moments that made the season for every K-State team.
12 – K-State Women’s Hoops Snaps Skid in Sunflower Showdown
No team in Manhattan faced more disruption to their schedule than K-State Women’s Basketball, canceling an exhibition and non-conference game due to COVID-19, before pausing the season from December 21 to January 20 without enough players to compete in Big 12 play.
But in the 125th Sunflower Showdown, the ‘Cats reminded the conference what they can do.
Ayoka Lee poured in her 25th career double-double with 28 points and 16 rebounds as K-State took down the Jayhawks 77-66 at Bramlage Coliseum, snapping a 10-game losing streak.
“Proud of our group for fighting through it,” head coach Jeff Mittie said. “We had a lot of players play extended minutes today, step up into some different roles and have to play extended minutes. I thought they responded well.”
The game also showcased the talent that K-State brings back in 2021-22, as every single point was scored by a returning member of the Wildcats. Laura Macke nearly grabbed her first career double-double (nine points and nine rebounds) while Emilee Ebert poured in 15 points.
11 – K-State Men’s Golf Grabs Team Title in Nebraska
Grant Robbins‘ team came close a few times this season, contending on the final day at tournaments in Georgia and Missouri.
In their regular season finale, the Wildcats finally got it done.
At the Git-R-Done Husker Invite in Nebraska – sponsored by Larry the Cable Guy – the ‘Cats used a Sunday charge up the leaderboard to grab their first team title of the season.
“We’ve been in contention three times now this spring,” Robbins said. “It seemed like each time it wasn’t that we played poorly, we just didn’t make the clutch shots. Our guys kept chugging along today and made some of those clutch putts down the stretch that we always talk about.”
Tim Tillmanns, who would represent K-State at the NCAA Regionals, carded his best 18-hole score of the spring on the final day to help power K-State to a team trophy.
“If you’re in these pressure moments, you learn a lot about yourself,” Tillmanns said. “The Sea Island event and the Missouri event really showed me what kind of person I am under pressure. I could take the positives from that and know what I needed to work on to close it out.”
10 – K-State Tennis Defeats Kansas for First Time Since 2014
It wasn’t just that K-State defeated Kansas on the tennis court for the first time in seven years.
It’s how the Wildcats won back Sunflower State bragging rights.
— K-State Tennis (@KStateTEN) April 5, 2021
Ioana Gheorghita found a way past Tiffany Lagarde of Kansas in a winner-take-all singles’ match, 7-5, 6-7 (1-7), 6-4, leading to the kind of court-storming that you don’t see every day at Mike Goss Tennis Stadium.
Karine-Marion Job, Maria Linares and Anna Turco came up with the wins K-State would need to seal the 4-3 victory over the Jayhawks.
“It has been since 2014 since we had beaten this team,” head coach Jordan Smith said. “Ioana in the spotlight, she has been on fire all year. I give her a hell of a lot of credit. She lost at KU a couple of weeks ago and came back and won it for us.”
9 – Carter Powers K-State Volleyball to Ranked Win over Creighton
The problem with breaking the K-State freshman record for kills in a match? Aliyah Carter’s breakout performance came in a tough 3-2 loss to No. 1 Texas.
So, the freshman outside hitter just did it again a few months later, nearly equaling her offensive output with 26 kills and hitting .449 as the Wildcats took down No. 24 Creighton.
“The back row was calling out shots for me that they knew were open,” Carter said. “Shelby (Martin) was giving me a good ball. The main thing that really helped me in getting such a good hitting percentage was that my teammates were always covering me.”
When you look back at the performances that helped Carter become the second Big 12 Freshman of the Year in K-State Volleyball history, put the Creighton win at the top of the list.
8 – McGuirl Goes Xbox on Senior Night
It was always going to take a special performance for K-State Men’s Basketball to defeat No. 7 Oklahoma.
Special, in this case, was Mike McGuirl scoring nine points in less than 90 seconds with a trio of back-to-back-to-back three pointers as K-State knocked off the Sooners 62-57.
“A lot of time in the gym, I trusted myself and trusted the work I put in with my teammates and my coaches,” McGuirl said. “You all know I like to let it fly.”
— K-State Men’s Basketball (@KStateMBB) February 24, 2021
The win gave K-State their first victory of the season over a top-25 opponent, something the program has done every year since 2007.
It was also a crucial part of a late-season stretch when the Wildcats won four of their final six conference games, including a six-point loss to eventual national champions Baylor.
“It’s astronomical,” Bruce Weber said. “I give credit to the coaches, and the players who had the buy-in. All we did was start showing them some of our former teams and how they guarded, just to help the guys understand what’s it about. We didn’t have basic habits. We didn’t have concepts. We missed a lot of stuff. As the season’s gone on, we’ve figured some things out.”
7 – Varsity Four Brings Home Big 12 Boat of the Week Honors
A bronze-medal performance against some of the top programs in the country helped the Varsity Four of K-State Rowing bring home even more hardware: Big 12 Boat of the Week honors.
At the Sunshine State Invitational, the Wildcats joined UCF and Clemson on the podium and as the only teams in the field to clear nine minutes on a windy day at the Sarasota, Florida course.
Redshirt senior Logan Frost, sophomore Ellie Hahn, sophomore Elizabeth Sloan, sophomore Kate Odgers and sophomore coxswain Kaitlyn Henke helped K-State take down fourth-place Kansas by 23 seconds in the race.
The performance was good for K-State Rowing’s first Big 12 Boat of the Week honor since 2017.
“We are pleased this young crew has been recognized for their consistency early in our season,” head coach Patrick Sweeney said. “They didn’t allow the difficult conditions to deflect them from their goals and focus.”
6 – Isaac Cards Individual Tournament Title in Oklahoma
A few days after K-State Football shocked No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman, Reid Isaac pulled off another upset just across town with a share of the Schooner Fall Classic Title.
The second best 54-hole mark in program history helped Isaac keep pace in a field loaded with Big 12 talent, as her second-round 65 would be one of the highlights of the weekend.
That impressive round, coming in high winds, was just a sign of things to come.
Still throwing darts 🎯
— K-State Women’s Golf (@KStateWGolf) September 28, 2020
“My long game is very consistent. I don’t miss super big to the right or to the left so that helps me keep it in the middle of the fairway on windy days,” she said. “The wind was a lot higher on the second day and par was a great score. That’s where I can lock in and play better than the typical golfer in the wind.”
In the final round, Isaac carded a 70 to earn a share of the tournament title with Baylor All-American Gurleen Kaur and collect the second individual victory of her K-State career.
5 – K-State Cross Country Grinds Out Historic Performance at Big 12s
One of the first teams to return to competition after COVID-19 brought K-State Sports to a halt over the summer, the Wildcats didn’t mess around at the Big 12 Cross Country Championship.
On the men’s side, Cooper Schroeder, Kerby Depenbusch and Hadley Splechter helped the Wildcats match their best-ever performance at the conference meet with a fourth-place finish. All three runners crossed the finish line among the top-20 competitors at the conference meet.
Schroeder became the first Wildcat to collect all-conference honors since 2004.
“I’ve got so many emotions right now, I’m just really happy,” Schroeder said. “After I saw the results, I didn’t know if it was real. I was super stoked and super happy for my teammates.”
The K-State women were just as impressive with a fifth-place finish that was the program’s best conference mark since 2013. An All-Big 12 outing from Jaybe Shufelberger helped the sophomore score an invite to the NCAA Cross Country Championship later in the spring.
“This has been one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve ever had in coaching,” head coach Ryun Godfrey said. “We have such a solid group of kids. They work hard and support one another.”
4 – K-State Baseball Rallies Past TCU in Manhattan Finale
A seven-run rally in the ninth inning? Impressive any day of the week.
Doing it against No. 5 TCU in an 11-8 win on Senior Day made this moment at Tointon Family Stadium one of the most dramatic in program history.
“What an awesome win for the program, especially for the [number] of seniors we have to go out like that against a really good opponent,” assistant coach Austin Wates said. “Such a cool feeling.”
Caleb Littlejim began the rally with the Wildcats down 8-4 and facing TCU’s All-American closer Haylen Green. RBI doubles from Cameron Thompson and Terrence Spurlin trimmed the lead before Dylan Phillips came up with the tying run on a gutsy RBI single to keep K-State alive.
That’s when Chris Ceballos uncorked a three-run blast to left field, emptying the Wildcat dugout and bringing the curtain down on a season at Tointon where K-State never lost a Big 12 series.
— K-State Baseball (@KStateBSB) May 23, 2021
“When this place gets loud, it gets really loud. The fans are so close to the dugouts. You can feel them,” Wates said. “When everybody is in unison like that, the place is really buzzing, and it absolutely affects the other team. For our guys to feed off that energy is really cool. It shows a bit of a return to normalcy that our guys get to play in front of a big crowd and a full stadium.”
3 – K-State Soccer Shuts Out Texas Tech on Senior Night
K-State Soccer was supposed to open their fifth season in the Big 12 against Texas Tech, before that match was pushed to the end of the season due to COVID-19.
It actually worked out pretty well.
In a 2-0 victory over the Red Raiders, the Wildcats ended the 2020 season with the most Big 12 wins and best conference finish in school history.
Sending out seven seniors with a program-defining win began with a top-shelf blast from Christina Baxter, before the first goal of freshman Maddie Weichel’s career sealed the Senior Night dub.
“It really is a family and it showed tonight. They played for each other and they wanted to win this senior night for each other.”
— K-State Soccer (@KStateSOC) November 14, 2020
“It’s unexplainable right now,” head coach Mike Dibbini said. “The culture, the love for each other, the way they approach the game, the way they approach training, I mean everything top to bottom has been just unbelievable.”
2 – TJ Shankar Delivers Dramatic Big 12 Title in the High Jump
Dueling Oklahoma’s Vernon Turner for a Big 12 crown, Tejaswin Shankar had a secret weapon at the conference championship meet: a capacity crowd of K-State fans behind him.
In the first sporting event of the season in Manhattan held at full capacity, Shankar found himself needing a season-best leap of 7-5 ¾ to defend his Big 12 title. Oh yeah, and this was also a sudden-death jump on his final attempt of the afternoon.
“It was make or break. I knew I’d be second if I didn’t make it,” Shankar said. “But you have to take risks in such big competitions with big people, tough competitors.”
Some context for one of the coolest moments of the weekend:
TJ had one attempt left at 7-4 ½ but moved up to 7-5 ¾ for what was basically a sudden-death jump.
This won him the Big 12 title in front of the first 100% capacity crowd at K-State in 14 months. https://t.co/mMAV8JNx74
— Austin Siegel (@_austinsiegel) May 15, 2021
Turner couldn’t match Shankar at that height, and a few hours later, the K-State junior was standing on top of the podium at the Big 12 meet.
“I think the last time I competed to such a cheer was in Eugene when I won the national title my freshman year,” Shankar said. “To have the same kind of reception, or even more than that, and the people behind me were the people I knew. I knew everybody’s face. That just made my day really special, and I can’t really complain about anything.”
1 – K-State Football Defeats No. 3 Oklahoma…Again
Playing without several playmakers due to COVID-19 restrictions, K-State Football was hanging tough against No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman, where the Sooners hadn’t lost since 2017.
Down 21 points in the first half, the odds were historically stacked against the ‘Cats.
The previous 545 times an AP top-five team had led another college football team by 21 points, the underdog had rallied just one time. K-State Football needed half an hour to double that in a 38-35 win.
“We were starting to make some of those plays in the passing game, some of the shots down field and some of the 50/50 balls, and then obviously getting the play to Deuce,” head coach Chris Klieman said. “I thought it gave us some life, a big play to get us down to the one. They came right back down and scored, but then they cut Keyon Mozee loose…You can’t cut people loose.”
A barnstorming second half saw the Wildcats roll up 31 points on the Sooners, behind 174 all-purpose yards from Deuce Vaughn – in just the second game of his college career – and 334 passing yards from Skylar Thompson, who beat Oklahoma for the second time as a Wildcat.
On defense, K-State picked off Sooner quarterback Spencer Rattler three times, before a 28-yard touchdown from Vaughn helped the Wildcats complete the comeback.
“My Dad always tells me, ‘It’s about what you put in the ATM, Monday through Friday. On Saturday, you cash everything out.’ This team put a lot of things in the ATM,” Vaughn said. “Today, when it was time, we cashed everything out.”