Kansas Suffers First Loss in Five-Set Fight with No. 15 Northern Iowa, 3-2

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa –After sprinting out to a commanding two-set lead, the University of Kansas volleyball team was unable to hold off nationally-ranked, tournament host Northern Iowa in the Jayhawks’ opening match of the Clarion Inn-vitational, 25-19, 25-20, 20-25, 8-25, 8-15.

In front of more than 1,600 fans at the McLeod Center, Kansas played steady and unfazed through the opening sets of the match. Intense performances on both sides of the floor filled the arena with energy as the Jayhawks showed their composure en route to a 2-0 lead. Unfortunately for Kansas, the composure faded and the back-to-back Missouri Valley Champions were able to capitalize, winning the next three sets to hand Kansas (6-1) its first loss of the season.

Senior outside hitter Allison Mayfield finished the night just one kill short of a career-best performance with 20, including a dominating six-kill performance in the final seven points of the second set. Freshman outside hitter Sara McClintonregistered her best night in the kill column, posting 10 on Friday.

On the other side of the court, UNI (8-0) received team-leading performances from middle blockers Shelby Kintzel, Michelle Burrow and Krista DeGeest. The three posted 39 of the Panthers’ 63 kills, 27 of which came in the last three sets.

In the first set, a leadoff ace from sophomore setter Kara Wehrs and a kill from junior middle blocker Tayler Tolefreepushed the Jayhawks out to an early 4-1 lead.

As predicted, the nationally-ranked Panthers wasted no time battling back and the teams traded points on intense volleys until redshirt sophomore middle blocker Caroline Jarmocand Tolefree drilled consecutive kills to put the Jayhawks ahead, 11-10. The duo collected a combined 15 kills on Friday.

Leading her team, Mayfield connected on back-to-back kills to keep the Jayhawks constantly on UNI’s tail, 17-17. An attack error from the Panthers gave Kansas the 20-18 lead, the largest lead for either team since the Jayhawks’ early 4-1 advantage. Doing her best to hold off the visitors’ momentum, UNI head coach Bobbi Petersen called her first timeout.

The Jayhawks snapped the back-and-forth scoring trend and responded with a 5-1 run. Tolefree and freshman outside hitter Chelsea Albersrejected a late UNI attempt to seal the set, 25-19.

Roaring back on their home floor, the Panthers did its best to steal the momentum back from the visiting Jayhawks in the second set. As the Panthers jumped out to a quick 5-1 lead, Bechard used his first timeout.

Jarmoc pulled off a flawless solo block to narrow the gap, 6-3, but a solo block by Kintzel on the very next play kept the Panthers out in front. Kansas continued to lay on pressure, and a pair of Panther attack errors brought Kansas all the way back to a 10-8 lead, forcing a timeout from the UNI bench.

Kansas held the home team to a .050 attack percentage in the second set, but was finding it difficult to find the floor on its own side. Instantly, the Jayhawks flipped a switch and Mayfield, Jarmoc and McClinton all rattled off kills to pull ahead, 20-18, again prompting a UNI timeout.

From there, the senior took over. Mayfield swung for six kills in the Jayhawks’ last seven points to claim the second set and the 2-0 lead, 25-20.

Predictably, the third set opened in gridlock mode. A well-placed ball from Kara Wehrsand consecutive kills from Mayfield resulted in the Hawks pulling ahead, 10-8.

The lead was short lived as the score tied up at 10-10 and 12-12, in fact, the match would see the lead change 12 times as the tension mounted. After Bechard used a timeout to regroup his team, Kansas suffered two-straight attacking errors and a UNI kill to face its largest deficit of the evening, 19-14.

The Jayhawks went to work, chipping away at the Panther lead using big plays from sophomore libero Brianne Rileyand kills from Tolefree, the freshmen and, once again, Mayfield – who led the floor on both sides with five kills in the third set. The rally came up short, however, 20-25.

Tolefree got it rolling in the fourth set, slamming down a kill to close the early gap built by the Panthers, 3-4. Fueled by a .485 attack percentage as a team in the fourth set, the home team darted out to a 7-3 lead. Bechard attempted to halt the UNI energy and called a timeout, but the Panthers answered with a 5-1 run.

Staring down a 12-4 hole, the Jayhawks worked diligently to fight their way out. Mayfield landed a kill to shorten the Panther lead, 13-6, but the Panthers were surging using a strong performance from their middles. Kintzel, Burrow and DeGeest put up 13 kills in the fourth set alone.

An executive coaching decision brought senior setter Nicole Tatein the game, although she performed well – registering an assist and a dig – Kansas couldn’t recover, falling 8-25, to send the match to a decisive fifth set.

Playing its first five-set match of the season, Kansas needed to work quickly. An attack error saw the Jayhawks fall behind, 4-1, and Bechard wanted a timeout. Tolefree pulled out two clutch kills to bring her team within one, 6-5, but a 5-0 run by the Panthers brought the home team to its feet.

McClinton ignored it, registering her career-best 10th kill of the night to bring the Jayhawks closer, 11-7. Jarmoc crushed a ball for the Jayhawks, but it would be their last point of the match. A kill from DeGeest would end it in favor of the Panthers, 15-8.

The Jayhawks will receive no relief from high-caliber competition as they open Saturday’s action against No. 6 Minnesota at 10 a.m. CT. Kansas will wrap up the weekend against St. Louis at 5 p.m. CT.

Saturday morning’s match against the Golden Gophers can be heard via free online radio.