Balanced 5th-ranked Jayhawks sweep Mississippi State, 3-0
STARKVILLE, Miss. – No. 5 Kansas Volleyball opened the season with a straight-set victory over Mississippi State (3-0; 25-22, 25-20, 25-17) on Friday night, the first day of the Bulldog Invitational, at Newell-Grissom Building.
Junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon led the Jayhawks with 14 kills on a .364 hitting percentage, while junior All-American Kelsie Payne owned her new role as a six-rotation player to record her first career double-double of 11 kills and a career-high 12 digs.
Senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie contributed a team-high seven block-assists as the Jayhawks out blocked Mississippi State, 10.0 to 7.0.
While social media was all the rave on Friday about National Dog Day, the Jayhawks (1-0) tamed the Bulldogs (0-1) on their home court. Kansas held Mississippi State to a .056 hitting percentage on the way to a fourth-straight road-opening victory.
“We faced a team tonight that played really hard – Mississippi State is going to have a good season,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard said. “We matched their effort with some good defensive intensity. I thought our defense probably out-shined our offensive performance. We had some struggles at the service line, but in the third set when we needed to be good, we finished off the match well.”
KU’s defense helped grind out a 25-22 first-set victory as Soucie recorded four of her seven blocks in the opening stanza to help the Jayhawks stave off a late MSU rally and score three of the last four points.
Souice was joined in the starting lineup by freshman Zoe Hill at the middle blocker position. The second set proved to be Hill’s welcoming party as the Houston native poured in five kills on seven swings. Payne and Rigdon also added five kills each as Kansas went on to take the second set, 25-20.
Despite going into intermission with a 2-0 lead, service errors plagued the Jayhawks early efforts, combing for nine in the first two sets. Kansas cleaned up its service game to the tune of one ace and one service error in the third set to enjoy a wider 25-17 scoring margin to conclude the sweep.
Senior libero Cassie Wait finished with 10 digs while directing the Jayhawks’ defense on the floor which held MSU to a .056 hitting percentage.
Mississippi State was led by Evie Grace Singleton’s eight kills, while Payton Harris contributed a match-high 19 digs.
Kansas returns to action for a doubleheader on Saturday at the Bulldog Invitational, starting with Eastern Washington (1-0) at 10 a.m. Central, followed by Lamar (0-1) at 5 p.m. Central.
• Friday marked the first career start for redshirt freshman outside hitter Patricia Montero and freshman middle blocker Zoe Hill.
• Freshman outside hitter Jada Burse, who was born in Mississippi, subbed in for the first time in the waning moments of the second set and registered her first career kill almost immediately.
• Junior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne recorded her first career double-double with 11 kills and 12 digs. It was the first collegiate match that Payne played all six rotations on the court.
• Senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie’s seven blocks moved her from sixth to fourth on KU’s career blocks list, passing Ashley Michaels (2001-04; 401) and Tayler Tolefree (2009-12; 405). Soucie now has 407 career blocks.
• During the Ray Bechard era, the Jayhawks are 13-6 in road openers, including four-straight wins in 2013 at Arizona (W, 3-1), 2014 at Denver (W, 3-1), 2015 at Arkansas (W, 3-1), and 2016 at Mississippi State (W, 3-0). Friday’s match at Mississippi State marked KU’s first true road match to open the season since 2009 at Middle Tennessee (L, 1-3).
• Friday marked the first meeting between Kansas and Mississippi State. In the last seven meetings against Southeastern Conference (SEC) teams, the Jayhawks are 6-1.
• KU’s record as a top-10 team improves to 16-3. The Jayhawks have been ranked in the top-10 of the AVCA Coaches Poll since Oct. 5, 2015. KU’s only losses as a top-10 team came to national champion Nebraska and national finalist Texas.
2015 NCAA LEADERS
• A clerical error which was corrected on Friday morning put Kansas in the lead for two 2015 statistical categories. The Jayhawks led all NCAA Division I teams in kills per set (15.10) and assists per set (14.17) last season. Boise State was the previous leader before the error was corrected.
• It marks the first time Kansas has led the nation in any major statistical category. Major statistical categories include kills per set, assists per set, aces per set, digs per set, hitting percentage, and blocks per set.
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