Jayhawks, Burse slam Samford in NCAA First Round, 3-0

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – Nerves? Sure, but a first appearance in the NCAA Tournament didn’t seem to faze Kansas freshman Jada Burse. She led Kansas with 14 kills and the Jayhawks rolled to a 3-0, NCAA Tournament First Round victory over Samford in Horejsi Family Athletics Center Thursday night. Kansas, playing in its fifth-straight NCAA Tournament, will play Creighton in the Second Round at 6:30 p.m. Friday night with hopes of advancing to the Regional Semifinals.
Burse, who led the No. 5 overall seeded Jayhawks (27-2) outright for the first time this season, logged a team-best six kills in the second set, including a set-clinching point after the Bulldogs (21-14) pulled within one late. She added three kills during a 7-0 run to put away Samford in the third set.  
“I was nervous in the beginning,” Burse said. “(Kayla) Cheadle talked to me and helped get the nerves out. After a couple kills I let it go, it was fine.”
Kansas hit .261 as a team, a little better than its average during the regular season, but saw a varied attack as Burse (14) and junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon (11) notched double-digit kill performances with Kelsie Payne logging nine on just 14 swings. Of the 14 kills for Burse, the clincher in the second set helped rally the team from a “disinterested” effort according to Kansas head coach Ray Bechard.

Ainise Havili led Kansas with 14 digs and 27 assists.Kansas had used a 6-0 run to separate itself from Samford in the opening set (25-19), then started the second set 6-1 before the Bulldogs threatened late at 22-21. Bechard called a timeout and his team responded with a pair of back-to-back kills from Tayler Soucie then Burse’s final kill for the 25-21 second set victory.
“I said get to 25 first, let’s go,” Bechard laughed after listening to Burse and Rigdon struggle to recall the momentum changing speech. “I just think at that point we were disinterested, we didn’t look like we were very engaged. We had a lead early in that set and really could have put the pressure on them and that was probably the most disappointed I was in the match tonight.
“That set was in doubt, in the balance and there was no reason for that. I told them we have to play like we want to beat Creighton and beyond, so let’s compete like that, and they responded well.”

It wasn’t the last challenge for Samford, but perhaps the most serious. The Bulldogs led by as many as five points in the third set (10-5) before Kansas rallied with a 6-1 run – including four points off Samford errors – to tie the game at 11. The set was tied again at 12 and 13 before the 7-0 run put significant distance between the squads and Kansas closed with a 12-4 run overall to put the match away with a 25-17 third-set win.
“She had 14 kills, only 3 errors on 32 swings and had a lot of great touches form a blocking standpoint,” Bechard said of his freshman from DeSoto, Texas. “She’s making more volleyball plays, not just athletic plays. The light came on for her six weeks ago when she said, ‘I belong out here and am a good enough volleyball player.'”
Perhaps Burse’s only rookie move was questioning whether or not to take the complimentary water after the postgame press conference.
“Can I take this,” Burse asked after grabbing the water, hesitating, and drawing a chuckle from the media and her coach.

The Jayhawks, who advanced to the program’s first NCAA Championship Final Four last season, will face a Bluejay squad that needed five sets to dispatch Northern Iowa earlier Thursday after leading 2-0. It’ll be the second meeting between Kansas and Creighton this season, with the Jayhawks owning a five-set victory over the Jays at the Bluejay Invitational (Sept. 8).


Kansas head coach Ray Bechard

Opening statement:
“We’re excited to move on. I don’t know that it was consistently good volleyball on our side, but there were times that we really played well. We played well enough in each set to have the success we wanted. I’m proud of these two right here (Madison Rigdon and Jada Burse), they did a nice job. They took a lot of swings tonight and defensively, we picked it up as it went. I know Samford has had a great year. I’m good friends with their coach and I know he’s brought them along and done some good things. We’re excited to move on.”

On starting Patricia Montero and Kayla Cheadle:
“That’s the way we’ve been starting pretty much. We see how that goes and then if we need a little more offense from our middles, Zoe (Hill) gives us that spark. We feel really good about both of them. Cheadle gives us a little bit better look defensively, but Zoe can give us a little spark offensively. Things were a little bit stale and flat so Addie (Barry) always energizes us and does a nice job, and so does Zoe.”

On how difficult it was not using a challenge:
“The officials were awesome, so we didn’t need to. I didn’t really see anything. Maybe there was an end line or two, but in the match before us, there were some times I wished they would have had it. I thought it was a clean match as far as that goes. There was really nothing to concern ourselves with the officiating. It was really just our ability to maintain our energy and our execution for a little bit longer period of time.”

On how relieving it was to only play three sets:
“We’ve been talking a lot about why play four when you can play three because we have to give a big effort tomorrow night.”

On what it means to get that first win of the tournament under their belt:
“I don’t care how long you’ve been into it or what your seed is or how experienced you are, the NCAA Tournament just feels different. This team is human. They are great student-athletes, but it just feels different. This is an elimination game and I thought when we needed to step it up at key times and we did, but that level will need to be consistent tomorrow night to have the type of result we want.”

On this match feeling any different than last year’s opening round:
“I think last year’s result was similar to this one. When we played Furman last year, who is in the same conference as Samford, I thought Samford came in with a great game plan and attacked us on the pins. I just think our team will understand that tomorrow night is a big-time opponent. It will be very similar to some of the teams we played in the Big 12. We’ll be ready.”

On preparing for back-to-back games:
“We had to obviously pay attention to Samford and most of our scouts have been them, but there were some little things, whether the team knew it or not, that we were throwing in this week during practice that had a little UNI and Creighton flavor to it. They watched them tonight. It will be which team executes the best and plays true to who they are. Obviously there are keys to the other side, but you have to play true to who you are and if we do that, we give ourselves a chance.”

On Jada Burse’s composure:
“She had 14 kills, she only had three errors on 32 swings. I thought she had a lot of great touches from a blocking standpoint. She’s making more volleyball plays, not just athletic plays. I think the light came on for her about six weeks ago when she said, ‘I belong out here, I’m a good enough volleyball player.’ That was a great NCAA debut for her.”

On how large of a role Jada plays being a freshman:
“We lost (Tiana) Dockery and we needed somebody to plug in there and Jada’s done that admirably. Now we have to get Cheadle and Zoe to give us a little more offense in the middle to keep that balance. We only set (Kelsie) Payne 14 times tonight, which was fourth most, which wasn’t by design. That means we weren’t passing the ball as well as we’d like to. That needs to settle down too – the pass and serve game.”

On what Jada had to do to earn his trust to play in matches so early:
“I think it was a matter of she can attack and score, but can she make the volleyball IQ plays where you come off the net and make a quick reaction or where you get a sense for what is going to happen in a rally. That just takes time to mature through practice situations. This is a new position for her (than) in club and high school. She played on the right side, which we have a pretty good player on the right side in Kelsie Payne, so everybody wondered if she could make the switch or not, but we saw it. It was the start of the Big 12 where we saw she could not only be good, but great. She’s now not just blocking and hitting, she’s making other plays throughout the rally, making us a really good volleyball team.”

Kansas junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon

On Jada’s backwards kill:
“I think we all loosened up after that. We got really excited that we got a free-ball kill and that energized everyone and (got us) ready to go.”

On having another outside like Jada coming on this strong this late in the season:
“It’s awesome. I know that I can always count on her for anything. She has come along really well. She listens to advice really well. She hits the places that we tell her to hit and she’s become a great player. I’m really excited to play next to her.”

On the confidence she brings after getting the first win under the team’s belt:
“I think we’re just ready to play Creighton. They (Samford) were a great team and it was nice to go 3-0, but they we’re an awesome team. I think we’re just ready to move on to Creighton at home.”

On what she remembers from playing Creighton earlier in the season:
“It went to five sets. They are a really strong team. I think we just have to play well on our side and keep the energy up because they bring a lot of energy to their side of the court. Being at home is an advantage for us, but we have to keep it on our side by communicating all the time and not losing focus.”

On what she thought of the team’s composure tonight:
“I thought we held our composure pretty well. We didn’t get too anxious or too mad at each other. We usually bring it back to our side and say that we have it under control and it’s okay. We say that it is our side that we need to focus on and not let what the other team is doing affect our play.”

On how relieving it was to only play three sets:
“That was very nice. We’ll be able to get a little extra rest before tomorrow.”

Kansas freshman outside hitter Jada Burse

On her feelings toward playing Creighton tomorrow after having not played in the first match against Creighton earlier in the year:
“I’m really excited. I try not to think too much and just go out there and play.”

On her postseason nerves:
“I was nervous in the beginning, but (Kayla) Cheadle talked to me and got the nerves out. I started off nervous in the game, but after a couple kills, I let it go and was fine.”

On her improvement throughout the season:
“I think it started to kick in when I started to get more comfortable in practice, toward the beginning of conference play. That’s when I started to get more comfortable and there was better chemistry with (junior setter) Ainise (Havili).”

On how much more fun the game becomes when it finally clicks:
“I was really nervous at the beginning of the year because I have never played outside before. Outside hitter is a big role to play. It’s nothing but fun now. I try not to think too much about that stuff now. It helps me a lot by not overthinking and just playing.”

Samford head coach Keylor Chan

Opening statement:
“It was a privilege for us to be here. We are excited to represent Samford and the Southern Conference. The only disappointing thing was that it ended. We played a worthy team. Kansas is a great team on its home court. I’m proud of this group of young women and the growth they’ve shown this entire year.”

On Kansas’ freshman outside hitter Jada Burse:
“She’s a talented athlete. I think at this level, when you’re talking about the best teams in the nation, any athlete is able to take over the match. She had a wonderful match and she made a big difference for Kansas tonight.”

On the game plan against Kansas:
“At this level you’re going to scheme out certain players. We were scheming out Kelsie Payne and we did the best we could with her. Kansas had their best blockers against Erin (Bognar). They had some physical kids and I didn’t think Erin scored as efficiently as she typically does. She took some big swings and at the end of the day the match was won on the serve and pass. It was on first contact. It is a big coaching cliché, but it was very true. If you look the stats, they’ll tell you we had five reception errors and Kansas had one. Between those lines they passed a little better and handled some situations better than we did. They were able to score those points in transition and that was the difference in the match.”

Samford senior setter Erika Pifer

On her 21 assists:
“I was seeing a bunch of blocks. Honestly, I’m pretty proud of my passers and the service team we had tonight. I don’t think our offense works without our service team behind it. I’m pretty proud of our team. They all showed up tonight and it made my job a lot easier.”

On KU’s defensive scheme:
“We knew going into it that they were going to camp out on (senior outside hitter) Erin (Bognar). She’s our main hitter and she’s had an incredible season for us this year. I think we have to out-execute sometimes, it’s not about out-scheming everything. When it comes down to it, it comes down to execution. I think Erin had an incredible night tonight, but so did the Kansas hitters. I think we managed to find a couple of gaps within the offense, but when it came down to it was just execution.”

Samford senior defensive specialist Mattie Newson

On coming back in the second set:
We went into the match having the confidence that we worked hard to get into this position. We were excited for the opportunity to play Kansas. We were talking a lot about the feeling between being the hunter and the hunted. We wanted to take on the offensive role during the match. There were definitely moments where we felt like we were the hunter and we were executing, trying to take control of the match.”

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