🏐 Kansas Outlasts Houston in Five Sets
LAWRENCE, Kan. – In a battle of ranked Big 12 volleyball foes, No. 19 Kansas outlasted No. 20 Houston 3-2 (20-25, 25-22, 23-25, 25-21, 15-11) in an epic battle Friday night before a sold-out crowd at the Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena.
With the win Kansas improved to 11-2 and 2-1 in Big 12 play, while Houston fell to 7-4 (1-1).
“We had to keep coming together as a team, take a deep breath and talk about strategy more than focusing on the emotional side of it,” said KU graduate Reagan Cooper who ended the match with a season-high 20 kills to go along with seven digs. “We know Houston is a tough team and we knew it was going to be big fight tonight. We just tried to emphasize slowing the game down for us and just strategizing.”
The first set was a grind for the Jayhawks, who let the Cougars get out in front early. KU allowed Houston to go on a 3-0 run before a London Davis kill made it 4-6. Right after, a 3-0 run by KU included a block by Mykayla Myers and Davis, a big Ayah Elnady kill, and an exciting solo block by Toyosi Onabanjo to make it 7-8. Elnady surpassed her 600th career kill and 400th career dig during this set, and also went on a deep serving stint late in the set that sparked a 7-3 run for the Jayhawks. The attempt at the comeback came too late, however, despite holding the Cougars at game point long enough to force a timeout at 20-24.
The Jayhawks held a narrow lead for a good portion of set two, as this appeared to be a much more back and forth dynamic between the two teams. Camryn Turner kept the Kansas offense moving, surpassing her 2,100th career assist midway through the set to make it 15-13. The score would then read 20-20 until a won challenge from the Jayhawks resulted in a Davis kill to make it 21-19 in favor of KU. Dominant performances from Davis, Elnady and Cooper late in the set would carry the Jayhawks through, ending the set on a huge kill from Cooper.
Set three would prove to be another even-up game with there being 12 different ties throughout the set and neither side of the court ever leading by more than three points. The tie at 22-22 came from back-to-back Onabanjo kills, which was a big momentum shift for Kansas. Houston was able to edge the home team in the end, however, hanging on for a narrow third-set victory.
Houston rolled with its momentum heading into the fourth, but the Jayhawks never let visitors get too far ahead, remaining within three points or less at any given moment. After a couple big points for KU late in the set, the home team held a 21-19 lead. Houston looked to come back, closing in at 21-20, then 22-21, but the Jayhawks pushed ahead off a huge kill from Elnady to make it 23-21 and force a Houston timeout. Onabanjo tied her season-high number of kills (13) to make it 24-21, and a Houston error gave the Jayhawks the victory in the end. This was a highly efficient offensive set by both teams, however, with KU hitting .405 and Houston hitting .350.
The neck-and-neck trend continued through the start of the fifth and deciding set, with the two teams going point for point all the way up through 6-6. Onabanjo’s new career-high number of kills came on the Jayhawks’ fourth point, and she continued her strong offensive presence through to the final point. Once KU ran up an 8-6 lead, the points kept flowing with huge kills from Davis and Cooper that ran the score up 10-6. Houston knocked down a point, but Cooper answered back with another strong swing that kept the Cougars at bay. Elnady added a tip and f0rced Houston’s second timeout of the set. She then teamed up with Onabanjo to end the match with a combo block.
“I just think through the fourth set and fifth set, offensively, we got better,” said Head Coach Ray Bechard. “We hit for a really good number against a great team. That’s what Big 12 Volleyball should look like. That’s what a Top 20 matchup should look like. It’s two teams really getting after it, and credit to Houston because they brought out the best in us today.”
These two teams will conclude their two-game series on Saturday, Sept. 30, at 3 p.m. CT at the Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena. The contest will be televised on Big 12 NOW via ESPN+.