No. 4 Kansas withstands Creighton in five sets, 3-2

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OMAHA, Neb. – Fourth-ranked Kansas volleyball remained unbeaten after withstanding a test from preseason-No. 18 Creighton in front of a packed home-opening crowd at D.J. Sokol Arena on Thursday night to open the Bluejay Invitational. The Jayhawks won their second-straight five-set match, 3-2 (25-21, 23-25, 21-25, 28-26, 15-13).

Junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon led the Jayhawks (7-0) to their 22nd-straight regular-season nonconference victory with a match-high 24 kills, 11 digs and four aces to account for 30 of KU’s 80 total points.

“There were some big-time swings late, where everyone knew where the ball was going and she still hit it well,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard said. “Madison is really playing at a great level for us. We needed every point she scored tonight.”

Kansas trailed Creighton two sets to one going into a crucial fourth set. The Jayhawks stormed back from a 9-4 deficit in the fourth to eventually win in extra points, 28-26. With the help of three kills from Rigdon during a stretch of six set points, the Jayhawks were able to force a fifth and deciding set.

Neither team led by more than two points in a tight fifth set. Rigdon recorded the last three kills of the match for Kansas, but two Creighton service errors proved to be the Bluejays’ Achilles heel. Creighton (2-4) served out of bounds to give KU a 14-12 lead, followed by a long serve on match point to clinch the fifth set, 15-13, and the win for the Jayhawks.

“I was pleased on a lot of levels, and disappointed on a lot of levels,” Bechard said after the match. “Seems like we dug a hole for ourselves – down 2-1, 9-4 in the fourth set. It was not a thing of beauty tonight. Tonight was about using 10, 11, 12 players who converted on their chances and dug-in to beat a good team when we didn’t play our very best.”

KU’s regulars were dependable, as always.

Senior libero Cassie Wait registered 33 digs for her second-straight 30-dig performance. Junior All-American setter Ainise Havili posted 43 assists, five kills and 10 digs. Junior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne led Kansas in blocks with eight, adding 11 kills and six digs. Senior Tayler Soucie had seven kills and four blocks.

But it was KU’s newcomers and reserves whom helped hold the door for Kansas to eek-out a road win against Creighton – a 2015 NCAA Sweet 16 team – on the road.

Redshirt freshman Patricia Montero came through with 22 digs. Junior defensive specialist Tori Miller provided stable back-row support and served an ace on KU’s first-set set point. Redshirt freshman Ashley Smith subbed in-and-out in special situations, recording three kills. Junior middle blocker Kayla Cheadle finished with four blocks in just two sets.

“I love my teammates – I know they have my back,” Rigdon boasted. “I really like the way Patricia (Montero) communicates with me on the court. Ashley (Smith) did a phenomenal job coming off the bench. So did Kayla (Cheadle) – Kayla played great. That just shows how versatile our team is and how many people can impact the game.”

Creighton’s BIG EAST Preseason Player of the Year Jaali Winters led the Bluejays with 21 kills.  

Kansas returns to D.J. Sokol Arena on Friday to face Chattanooga at 3:30 p.m. The Jayhawks then cap-off a stretch of three matches in three days, in two cities, when hosting Northern Iowa in Lawrence on Saturday evening at 6 p.m.

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