No. 4 Kansas downs Arkansas in five-set thriller, 3-2

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – In the first five-set match of the year for fourth-ranked Kansas volleyball, the Jayhawks prevailed to remain undefeated after defeating Arkansas, 3-2 (25-20, 23-25, 25-19, 31-33, 15-8), on Saturday afternoon in Horejsi Family Athletics Center.

The win gives Kansas (6-0) its seventh-straight nonconference tournament title, clinching the Kansas Invitational crown, and its 21st-straight regular season nonconference victory.

With each set coming down to the wire, Kansas faced its toughest match of the season as they were forced to fight for each and every point, including a fourth set that went to 33 points. Throughout the five sets, the Jayhawks and Razorbacks saw a total of 48 tied scores and 24 lead changes, including 10 in the fourth set alone.

After losing its first set of the year, ending a 16-straight set streak, the Jayhawks had to dig deep to edge out the Razorbacks. Junior right side hitter Kelsie Payne stepped up to lead KU’s offense, registering 25 kills, just one short of her career high. The Austin, Texas product finished the match with 13 digs for her second career double-double, along with a .353 hitting percentage to earn tournament MVP honors. Senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie ended the day with 13 kills with no attacking errors for a team-high .371 hitting percentage.

In a tight first set, Kansas and Arkansas – meeting for the fourth-straight season – went point-for-point until a kill from Soucie swung momentum for the Jayhawks. Soucie and fellow middle blocker Zoe Hill combined for 10 kills in the first set on a .466 hitting percentage. An ace by sophomore All-American setter Ainise Havili gave the Jayhawks their largest lead of the set, while a block from Payne and Soucie ended the set in the Jayhawk’s favor, 25-20.

A strong start to the second set started with an assisted block by Payne and Hill to give KU a 5-1 lead that ignited the crowd in Horejsi to their feet. Arkansas refused to go down without a fight as they continued to challenge the Jayhawks and bring it within one. A long rally was brought home with a kill by Hill that brought the crowd to its feet once again. Havili dumped the ball over the net to put the Jayhawks five points away from a two-set advantage, but Kansas’ momentum came to a halt as the Razorbacks battled back to tie the set, 20-20. The Razorback and Jayhawks went back-and-forth for five points before Arkansas gave Kansas its first set loss of the season, 25-23.

In the third set, Arkansas continued to challenge the Jayhawks, matching them point for point in set three. Soucie ignited a fire on the Jayhawks squad that gave KU the momentum it needed to regain the lead. Over the span of a 5-1 KU run, four out of five points came at the hands of Soucie, posting a .667 hitting percentage for the set. After an 11-11 tie, the Jayhawks outscored the Razorbacks 14-9 to close the set, 25-19, and take a 2-1 advantage in the match.

Following the trend of the match, the third set began as a hotly-contested battle. Junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon followed a Payne kill with three-straight points, including two aces. Scoring six straight points it seemed that the momentum was on Kansas’ side but Arkansas would not go away as the battled back to even the score, 17-17.

Kansas began to pull ahead, 21-18, but the Razorbacks continued their resilience and once again came back to force extra points. Arkansas fought off five match-point opportunities, before forcing a fifth set with a 33-31 win in the fourth. .

In the fifth set, Kansas and Arkansas traded short runs to a 7-6 Razorbacks’ lead. It was all Jayhawks from there as KU clinched the Kansas Invitational title with a 9-1 run for a final fifth-set score of 15-8.

Kansas awaits its first top-25 matchup of the season when they travel to Omaha to face No. 22 Creighton on Thursday, Sept. 8, as a part of the Bluejay Classic.

Kelsie Payne, Kansas

Madison Rigdon, Kansas
Cassie Wait, Kansas
Ashlyn MacGregor, Maryland
Kelsey Wicinski, Maryland
Danielle Harbin, Arkansas

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