No. 4 Kansas withstands Xavier in five sets

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Fourth-ranked Kansas rallied from down two sets to one to defeat Xavier in five sets, 3-2 (25-15, 20-25, 23-25, 25-23, 15-5), on Friday afternoon during KU’s first match at the Stacey Clark Classic.

The Jayhawks (10-0) remain unbeaten on the season and extend their regular-season nonconference winning streak to 25 matches. Kansas recorded a season-high 12 service aces and held Xavier to a .182 hitting percentage – still keeping all 10 2016 opponents to a hitting percentage under .200.

“We put ourselves in a deficit to start sets – we were behind in the first four sets,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard said. “The response was good after that, but there is going to be a time that we are going to run out of opportunities for points in those situations. Let’s give Xavier some credit. Offensively, they create a lot of havoc. We only had five team blocks in five sets. That speaks to how they mix-up what they are doing. Give some credit to our team as well. We were down 2-1, and facing a deficit in a must-win fourth set and got that turned around and took care of business in the fifth set.”

Junior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne led Kansas with a match-high 17 kills on a .316 hitting percentage. With the Jayhawks down in sets, 2-1, freshman outside hitter Jada Burse contributed seven kills in a must-win fourth set to help force a fifth set. Burse finished with a season-high 12 kills on a .375 hitting percentage.  

The Jayhawks pulled away in the fifth set with three aces while taking advantage of Xavier’s miscues – seven attacking errors and two service errors.

Xavier (5-6) was led by a quatro of Musketeers in double-figure kills, including a double-double from reigning BIG EAST Player of the Year Abbey Bessler (15 kills, 12 digs).

Outside of the dominant fifth-set in which the Jayhawks jumped out to leads of 6-0 and 10-3, Kansas had to recover from slow starts in each of the first four sets.

Xavier took an early 10-6 in the first set, but KU started to rally thanks the Big 12’s leader in aces, Madison Rigdon, who tied the set at 11 with back-to-back aces. A kill from Payne on the next play gave KU a 12-11 lead. Xavier would tie it, 13-13, but the Jayhawks finished the set on a 12-2 run for a 25-15 first-set decision.

Despite at late 7-1 KU run that brought the Jayhawks within one, 19-18, the Jayhawks were not able completely overcome a slow start to the second set. The Musketeers jumped out to a 12-6 lead and maintained their advantage for the entire second set – equalizing the match with a 25-20 second-set score. Junior defensive specialist Tori Miller contributed two aces during KU’s late run.

Xavier’s .455 hitting percentage in the second set is the highest single-set hitting percentage of any Kansas opponent this season.

Kansas quickly recovered from an early 6-1 third-set deficit to tie the set, 13-13. The teams went back-and-forth down the stretch with neither team leading by more than one point until Xavier took a 22-20 lead, forcing a KU timeout. The Musketeers committed a service error and back-to-back attacking errors out of the timeout to give KU a 23-22 lead. But Xavier scored the next two points on kills and finished the 25-23 third-set victory with an ace.

The fourth set eerily mirrored KU’s sluggish starts in sets one, two and three. The Jayhawks fell behind 12-6, but were able to regroup for a 25-23 victory to force a fifth set for the third time this season. Burse recorded seven kills in the fourth set on a .462 hitting percentage to give KU a much-needed offensive spark. Payne clinched the set with a kill on KU’s fourth opportunity for set-point.

Kansas left no doubt in the fifth set, holding Xavier to a -.357 hitting percentage with an aggressive service approach which produced three aces.

The Jayhawks have a quick turnaround before facing No. 14 Purdue on their home court tonight at 6:30 p.m. Central.

“Tonight will be a different level of physicality with Purdue,” Bechard said. “They are playing as well as anybody in the country right now, coming off a great weekend (defeating No. 9 Stanford on the road). It will be a great challenge in a great environment. We are looking forward to it.”

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