No. 6 Kansas powers past TCU, 3-0

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FORT WORTH, Texas – Sixth-ranked Kansas volleyball started strong and kept the pressure on TCU during a straight-set Big 12 road victory on Saturday night inside University Recreation Center (25-12, 25-19, 25-22).

Kansas (17-2, 6-1 Big 12) jumped out to an early 5-0 lead in the first set and didn’t trail for the rest of the match, outside of a 2-2 tie in the second set and a 1-1 tie in the third set. A well-balanced defensive effort featured three Jayhawks with six or more block-assists while senior libero Cassie Wait led KU’s back row with 25 digs.

“For the second time this week, we started strong right out of the gate again,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard said. “Being physical and organized defensively created a lot of opportunities for us tonight. That was really great to see. TCU is having a really good season — an NCAA tournament team no doubt, as was K-State (who we played on Wednesday). It is as good of a 2-0 week that we’ve had in a while against quality opponents like that.”

TCU (10-7, 3-4) entered Saturday with a .243 hitting percentage and the second-most blocks per set in the Big 12 (2.5), but Kansas held the Frogs to a .056 hitting clip and four blocks in three sets. Junior All-American setter Ainise Havili guided the Kansas offense to an efficient .250 hitting percentage with her seventh double-double of the season, recording 32 assists and 13 digs.

For the second time four matches, junior right-side hitter Kelsie Payne proved her All-American status beyond measure by nearly recording a triple-double. The Austin, Texas native recorded 16 kills, 10 digs and seven blocks for her fifth double-double of the season. On Oct. 5, Payne poured in 18 kills, 16 digs and eight blocks at Iowa State.

Junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon, the Big 12’s leader in aces per set, set the tone early for Kansas at the service line. Rigdon maintained possession on KU’s side for a 5-0 run – not adding to her Big 12 lead in aces, but serving aggressively to keep the Horned Frogs out of system and setting up easy-to-terminate plays for the Kansas offense.

Kansas held TCU to a .000 hitting percentage in the first set, while posting a .417 attacking clip on the way to a 25-12 first-set victory.

The Jayhawks started the second set with a 9-5 advantage, forcing a TCU timeout. Kansas was able to maintain its lead for the remainder of the set with the help of 10 second-set digs from Wait and five second-set team blocks. Payne reached her 10th kill of the night without recording an attacking error until her first fault brought TCU within four points, 23-19. But a TCU service error provided a side-out and set-point for the Jayhawks.

Junior defensive specialist Addison Barry subbed in to serve an ace on set point to give Kansas a 2-0 lead in the match. Barry made the most of her playing time, as her ace on set point was the first and only time she checked in to the match on Saturday evening.  

Before Kansas put its fifth-straight victory on ice, junior middle blocker Kayla Cheadle helped withstand a late TCU run in the third set. Cheadle made back-to-back plays to stop a 5-0 TCU run that cut KU’s lead to two, 22-20. The Columbia, Missouri native’s sixth kill of the night halted the run, followed by a block assist with Rigdon to give Kansas match point.

“Cheadle got us a key kill and a block when TCU was making a run in the third set,” Bechard said. “Those back-to-back points were huge for us.”

Payne clinched the Kansas win with a first-ball kill on KU’s third match point.

The Jayhawks cap-off its week of competition with a pair of wins over 2015 NCAA tournament teams – and likely 2016 tournament teams – in Kansas State and TCU.

Kansas returns to Lawrence to face West Virginia on Thursday night (6:30 p.m., JTV/ESPN3).  

“I was encouraged after the K-State match that we are really starting to come into our own and understand who we are and what we do well,” Bechard concluded. “I think this solidifies it a little bit, but we have to get back to work to prepare for a good West Virginia team to end the first round of Big 12 play. But I think we are playing with some good momentum right now.”

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