Women's volleyball: No. 6 Kansas takes down No. 2 Texas in 5 sets
LAWRENCE, Kan. — In the fourth straight top-10 bout between No. 6 Kansas volleyball and No. 2 Texas, the Jayhawks outlasted the Longhorns in five sets (17-25, 25-11, 27-25, 12-25, 15-10) to snap a 25-match series losing streak on Saturday night inside a rambunctious Horejsi Family Athletics Center.
The win places Kansas (20-2, 9-1 Big 12) in a tie for first place in the Big 12 standings with Texas (17-3, 9-1). The Jayhawks are seeking a first-ever Big 12 title, while the Longhorns have won the last five league crowns.
Kansas out-blocked the Longhorns 13.0 to 9.5 and capped off the night with a block-assist from senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie and freshman outside hitter Jada Burse on match point.
"This needs to be part of our journey not our destination," Kansas head coach Ray Bechard said. "I don't want to rain on their parade, I'm sure they're going to enjoy it tonight, but come Monday this is off the books and we have to get ready to play a team in Manhattan that has a very high RPI and is an NCAA tournament team. There's a little relief, but at the same time we were confident that if the staff and the players put a good effort out there we could get a good result."
The result was good, indeed, as Kansas defeated Texas for the first time since 2003 — something even last season's Final Four team can't claim.
Junior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne paced the Jayhawks with 21 kills, adding eight digs and six blocks. Fellow Texas natives junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon posted 16 kills and junior All-American setter Ainise Havili guided KU's offense with 41 assists and 11 digs for her eighth double-double of the season.
Kansas took one of the nation's best offenses out of their game to remain unbeaten at home this season (10-0) and extend its home winning streak to 14 matches. During the second, third and fifth sets combined, KU held the Longhorns to a .028 hitting percentage. Texas entered the match with a .306 season hitting percentage, but hit .217 against the Jayhawks stout defense on Saturday.
Leading KU's defense was senior libero Cassie Wait's 18 digs and junior middle blocker Kayla Cheadle's match-high seven blocks.
UT's Micaya White recorded a match-high 25 kills on a .352 hitting percentage with two of the Longhorns' four aces.
Texas won the first set, 25-17, with an impressive .424 hitting percentage and balanced offensive attack. The Longhorns ended the set on a 7-1 run which included three kills from Ebony Nwanebu.
But a slow started didn't faze the Jayhawks. Kansas proceeded to put the hammer down with a 25-11 second-set win — holding UT to its fewest points in a set this season. During the dominating second set, Kansas held Texas to a -.077 hitting percentage and featured a 10-for-11 side-out rate (90 percent).
The Jayhawks battled through a key third set before prevailing in extra points 27-25. Wait entered Saturday with two aces on the season. But her float serve was able to weave through the Texas defense for back-to-back aces to give Kansas an early 6-2 lead. Kansas was seemingly in control of the set with a 19-15 lead until UT's White registered a side-out kill and proceeded to serve a 6-0 run to give the Longhorns a 21-19 lead.
Rigdon stepped up with three of her seven third-set kills down the stretch and Payne staved off set-point for Kansas with a kill to tie it at 25. Payne and Soucie combined for a block to give Kansas set point before clinching the 27-25 third-set win after a UT attacking error. Wait came up with seven digs to hold the back-row during the third set.
The fourth set mirrored the second set, but with the teams swapped. Kansas was held to a .000 hitting percentage while Texas recorded 16 kills on a .536 hitting percentage on the way to a 25-12 fourth-set win to force a match-deciding fifth set.
KU's superb blocking night was highlighted by three blocks during the fifth set, including one on match point to secure the long-awaited victory. Kansas denied the Longhorns of any momentum early in the fifth set — not allowing Texas to serve consecutive points until KU had a 13-8 cushion. After two Texas point, Cheadle notched a side-out kill to give KU match point. Soucie and Burse blocked UT's Nwanebu's attack to give Kansas the win.
"I told [Texas head coach] Jerritt [Elliot] after the match that they make us better," Bechard told Jayhawk Television Network after the match. "We have been striving to play at their level for a long time. Finally the Jayhawks get a big win against the Longhorns."
Kansas extends its overall winning streak to eight matches. The Jayhawks have won 14 straight home matches — a streak that started after losing to Texas in five sets during the 2015 season.
SERIES: LOSING STREAK ENDS
Kansas snaps a 25-match losing streak in the series against Texas. It is KU's first series win since Nov. 8, 2003. Texas leads the all-time series with Kansas 40-5. Saturday marked the second straight five-set match in Lawrence between Kansas and Texas.
KANSAS IS …
20-2 on the season; it is KU's fifth straight 20-win season … 10-0 at home … 8-0 during the month of October … 123-29 since the 2012 season … 50-5 since the 2015 season.
Head Coach Ray Bechard
"To win a game 25-11 and lose one 25-12; we just did a really good job of cleaning the slate to start the fifth set. It was critical to get off to a decent start, other than the missed serve start. We played really well. Texas has set a great standard that we're all trying to chase down. That team made us better tonight. That's what I told the team. Hopefully other teams feel the same way about us. After we played Texas Tech on Wednesday that's the same thing their coach said to us. It was so exciting and it lasted five sets, which Kansas, Texas here usually does. We just did enough at the end. Havili's got to quit doing that stuff at the end of the match, I don't know what she thinking about. I just thought about how sometimes the volleyball odds even out. If you remember last year, [Madison] Rigdon had a serve to win the third set that kind of caught the top of the net, it looked like it was going over and came back our way. Then the little tip [Kayla] Cheadle made to get us to 14 just kind of fell our way. So you make it on breaks and it was a great evening at Horejsi. I just think our fans are really into it, they wanted it just about as much as anybody. Our team over the past couple of days and today's passing was the best we've had. They were motivated. Before we came out to warm up, Maggie said, 'I need to beat Texas before I leave here.' Everybody responded to [our seniors] Maggie, Cassie [Wait] and [Tayler] Soucie on how important that was for them. Those three have put in a lot of hard work for this team."
On going from the fourth set to the fifth set:
"I had absolutely no confidence after the fourth set. I shouldn't say that. In volleyball we just need to make one play and the momentum switches. I needed [Ainise] Havili to serve tough, but then we make a couple of plays, we get a couple of blocks and then I knew we were fine after two or three points in, in the fifth set, because you could see the posture was better, the communication was better. I just think they were going to stay out there as long as they needed to tonight to beat Texas."
On the varying hitting percentage in sets:
"Defensively, we were trying some things and we flipped that switch after the first set. We went back to a true red defense, instead of an adjusted red. We blocked 13 balls. We didn't dig as well as we'd want, but there were some hard driven shots."
On the match's momentum:
"For us it's defensively. When the crowd gets juiced and our team gets juiced when we make a play defensively. Then we transition back and score. That's kind of who we are. That's our culture and how this team's built. That's our identity. It was more blocks than digs that got us going tonight. Funny enough, we won the match with a block by Jada Burse."
On entering the match:
"The coaches were the same. The players, though, you could just feel a different level of hype. We've got six kids from that state. We've been looking up to them in the stands for a long, long time. That team has been to seven of the last eight Final Fours. That's unheard of. We had to prepare and perform at a high level.
Junior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne
On the Kansas fans:
"They're amazing. They support us through thick and thin. Even in the fourth set when we had fallen, they were still cheering for us and being loud so that's all we could ask for."
On what stands out from the match:
I think the set when we just completely demolished them. We got on top, we played our game. We were pretty much perfect during that set. I think we gave it 100 percent, we just really played Kansas volleyball."
Junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon
On the match:
"I think we prepare ourselves well to come and play our game. I think the fans helped us a lot with the energy and excitement. I think we did a really great job of responding. They played very hard. I didn't want to just roll over and give up, I'm glad that they fought back and we fought back. It was a great match."
Senior libero Cassie Wait
On her feelings after the match:
"It was awesome. Our team went out there and did exactly what we needed to do. We played one point at a time. That's what we talk about. It doesn't matter who's on the other side of the net as long as we step up and play our game we're going to do what we need to do to win."
On the match's momentum:
"I think the thing is you can't dwell. The coolest thing about volleyball is once the set is over you start at zero, zero again. I think we used that to our advantage. So what, they won 25-12, we stepped up. We focused. Every single ball after that we used the momentum and carried that forward to get the win.
On preparing for the match:
"I think it's pretty similar game prep wise. Every single year we know what we need to do. We know we need to play defense and make them work really hard because they're obviously huge on offensive. They're a phenomenal team, to just be able to go up and take away a little bit of what they do well is what's going to get us there. Cheadle stepped up and blocked so awesome. Everyone up there in the front row took care of their jobs and it make our lives a lot easier in the back row."