Jayhawk Insider: A top-five takedown
Wednesday night in Lawrence, two undefeated volleyball titans clashed inside Horejsi Family Athletics Center. The Jayhawks (12-4, 5-0 Big 12) hosted No. 4 Texas (10-4, 5-1 Big 12) for an epic 8 p.m. first serve on Fox Sports Net.
Both teams had one goal in mind – take over sole possession of first place in the conference standings. In the previous 47 meetings, Kansas had beat Texas just six times, and only once as a top-25 team. What made matters even tougher was that the Longhorns hadn’t lost a conference match since 2016.
Texas consistently boasts a tall, athletic and powerful team, but the Jayhawks came into the match ready to play, riding the momentum of a seven-match winning streak to a four-set victory.
Gabby Simpson garnered the momentum early in the first set of the match using a 7-0 serving run, helping the Jayhawks win the first set of a contest for the first time since conference play began. Simpson ended the night recording a double-double in assists (20) and digs (10).
“The biggest thing I think has been playing consistent. When things don’t go our way, we have to be able to sit back and be like, ‘it’s ok, this happens, its volleyball,'” said Simpson when asked what has helped the team win eight games in a row.
One of the big heroes of the night that made extending the streak possible was junior outside hitter, Jada Burse. Burse led all hitters and recorded double-digit kills (22) for the seventh-straight match, posting a .234 hitting percentage. It was only fit that the game ended on a kill she hammered.
“I didn’t even know what happened. I just went for the ball and hit it as hard as I could,” said Burse when asked about that last kill.
Junior outside hitter Ashley Smith was another player who lit it up big for Kansas, especially in the second set. With just one hitting error in the entire match, Smith posted a whopping .533 hitting percentage, tallying double-digit kills (17) for the fifth-straight match. Smith sparked the Jayhawks in the second set with eight kills that included seven-straight KU points off her swing.
These hitters couldn’t have had such a successful night without the help from their setters.
Outside of Simpson’s double-double effort, freshman setter/outside hitter Camryn Ennis recorded her ninth double-double of the season, also in assists (30) and digs (13). The freshmen have stepped up big for Kansas so far this season and showed their tough mentality in the vital match against Texas.
“I just told them I was so proud of them,” Burse said of the freshmen. “We are a young team and been the underdog in the Big 12 so far this year. I think not letting the atmosphere get too big for them was key.”
The Longhorns pulled out to an early lead and led by as many as six points in the fourth set, but after five scoring ties, the Jayhawks pulled out a comeback. The lead changed to favor Kansas at 21-20, and was able to complete the comeback.
This was only the ninth time that a ranked Texas team had lost to an unranked opponent since 2006, and the first time in program history that Kansas had beaten a top-five ranked Texas squad. The last loss was handed to No. 5 Texas by Iowa State in 2016.
En route to the upset, the Jayhawks posted a .294 hitting percentage, their best in league play thus far. Kansas held Texas to a .234 hitting percentage, its second lowest match percentage of conference play this season. Texas is averaging a .284 clip on the season, ranking first in the Big 12.
Kansas and Texas both ended the night with eight blocks. The Jayhawks are ranked first in the Big 12 in blocks, averaging 2.93 per set and first for opponent hitting percentage at .167. Although Texas had a hitting percentage above the average, the Jayhawks were able to contain them on the defensive front, finishing with 13 more digs, 61-48.
The Jayhawks will have to face Texas later in the season in Austin. They’ll head to Lubbock to take on another tough Texas team on Saturday, Oct. 13.
When asked about their next contest, head coach Ray Bechard said, “I told them, we play Texas again Saturday. There is a Tech at the end, but we need to prepare like we did for Texas. We were pretty razor focused the last couple days and we need to prepare just like it.”
Kansas is now in sole possession of first place in the Big 12, being the only team left in the conference play that is undefeated. KU is 5-0 in the league and is currently on an eight-match winning streak.
KUAthletics.com: The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.