No. 23 Kansas Sweeps Sunflower Showdown, 3-1
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Sophomore outside hitter Sara McClinton led the Jayhawks with 16 kills – including six in the pivotal third set – to power the 23rd-ranked Kansas volleyball team to a season series sweep over rival No. 17 Kansas State, Wednesday night inside Ahearn Field House, 13-25, 28-26, 26-24, 27-25.
Kansas (21-5, 9-3) moved into sole possession of second place in the Big 12 Conference with the victory, upending Kansas State (20-5, 7-5) at home for the first time since 2009 in comeback fashion. After starting the evening with a lopsided first-set loss, the Jayhawks stormed back to win the next three sets, all by two points.
“We fought really hard,” head coach Ray Bechard said. “You have to fight hard to beat a good team on the road by two points, three sets in a row.”
McClinton registered 16 kills, using a .364 attack percentage, to lead a balanced offensive attack. For the sixth time this season, four different Jayhawks posted double-digit kills. A Manhattan, Kan., native, redshirt junior outside hitter Catherine Carmichael had a big night in front of her home crowd with 14 kills, while sophomore outside hitter Chelsea Albers and redshirt junior middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc each contributed 11 kills.
Junior setter Erin McNorton dished out 49 assists and dug 11 balls for her ninth double-double of the year and added a career-high four blocks. Jarmoc led the defense with five blocks, and senior defensive specialist Morgan Boub led the team with 17 digs on a night with a familiar face missing from the back row.
An undisclosed injury sidelined junior libero Brianne Riley out of the starting lineup for the first time since Oct. 23, 2010 – snapping a 63-match streak. Without the use of the Big 12 digs leader, junior Jaime Mathieu made the start in that role before Boub took over at the libero position for the third and fourth sets.
“We had better balance all the way across,” Bechard said. “(Sara) McClinton was great, (Chelsea) Albers was great, and it was a good team win because we had people stepping up and playing positions tonight that they hadn’t played in a while. (Morgan) Boub picked up and played well for us in sets three and four.”
Kansas State received double-digit kill performances from five players, led by 13 each from junior middle blocker Kaitlynn Pelger and junior outside hitter Courtney Traxson. Senior setter Caitlyn Donahue led the floor with 53 assists.
In the opening set, Kansas State came out hitting .500 to take a quick 10-4 lead. A kill from Carmichael backed by an ace from Boub cut the Wildcat lead to two, 11-9, and prompted the first timeout of the match from K-State’s bench.
The Wildcats used the timeout wisely, coming out to score three-straight points to force Bechard to take one, as well. Big swings from Jarmoc and Carmichael resulted in a pair of key points, but the Jayhawks found trouble staying in system without Riley in the backcourt. The Wildcats capitalized on that and quickly extended their lead to double-digits before putting the first set away, 25-13.
Kansas State hit for a potent .444 attack percentage in the first set, while holding the Jayhawks to a .138 mark. Carmichael led the Jayhawks with four kills.
Set two saw Kansas get out to a 6-2 advantage off of two quick kills from Carmichael and a heads up play from Jarmoc. Junior defensive specialist Amy Wehrs added to it with an ace, resulting in a KSU timeout. The Wildcats responded with strong serving, they finished the evening with six aces, and a seemingly non-stop scoring effort from Porubek to knot the set, 11-11.
As predicted between a pair of top-25 teams, a back-and-forth battle ensued as the rivals tied the set 11 times before the conclusion of the frame. Kansas won the race to 20, leading 20-17, but the Wildcats clawed back to tie it. A true knock-down, drag-out, the teams tied each other at 20-20, 21-21, 22-22, 23-23, 24-24, 25-25, 26-26 before Tolefree and McNorton ended it with a block. The 28-26 Kansas victory sent the match to break tied at a set apiece.
In set three, Jarmoc and McClinton posted four quick kills to chip away at and early 8-3 deficit, reeling in the Wildcat advantage to three or four points. Albers found her groove, churning out four kills and only one error in the third set alone. When the Wildcats built a 19-14 lead, the Jayhawk sophomores kicked into higher gear. McClinton back Albers’ effort and ripped off three-straight kills to pull Kansas within one before Carmichael tied it at 20-20 with her 11th kill of the night.
Another McClinton kill brought KU to set point and a KSU attack error swung the lead into the Jayhawks’ favor, 2-1, with the 26-24 victory. After being soundly outhit in the first set, KU had taken the lead in attack percentage, as well, by the end of the third set.
Kansas State head coach Suzie Fritz called a timeout after Kansas built an 8-4 lead to start the fourth set. As the match progressed, the intensity mounted. One of the night’s longer rallies saw the ball change sides nearly 10 times before Kansas State logged the point. McClinton put down a kill on the very next play as the rivals held each other accountable for every point.
Fittingly, McClinton brought the Jayhawks to match point at 24-22. Even more fittingly, the set went into extra points one final time as Kansas took the set, 27-25, and the match, 3-1.
No. 23 Kansas returns home to play host to No. 3 Texas in a meeting between the Big 12’s second and first place teams on Saturday, Nov. 10. The Jayhawks and Longhorns are set to start at 6:30 p.m. inside a sold-out Horejsi Family Athletics Center.
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