No. 7 Kansas sweeps No. 13 Kentucky in memorable home opener
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Seventh-ranked Kansas volleyball swept 13th-ranked Kentucky in a home opener to remember at Horejsi Family Athletics Center on Labor Day Monday (25-23, 25-20, 25-20).
Playing in front of a sold-out crowd, the Jayhawks (7-0) improved to 19-1 in home openers under head coach Ray Bechard after recording an eye-popping .390 hitting percentage. It KU’s highest hitting percentage since recording a .390 clip in a straight-set win over Baylor on Oct. 31, 2015.
Senior All-American outside hitter Madison Rigdon led Kansas with 16 kills on a career-high .577 hitting percentage while adding seven digs. Senior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne wasn’t far behind with 14 kills on a .462 clip and two blocks.
“Obviously, the thing that really stands out is hitting .390 – that’s a really good number against a team like Kentucky,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard said. “Rigdon was outstanding, Payne was outstanding. But you know, Kentucky has weapons of their own. They’re going to have a great, great year. I thought we just got enough done defensively to make a difference converting some balls. Havili had a huge momentum play in the first set when she pushed back and got that down. I thought from there we kind of controlled things a little bit.”
Havili, a senior All-American setter who finished with 40 assists and eight digs on Monday, gave the Jayhawks a boost to help secure a 25-23 first-set win. Early in the first, Kansas fell behind, 8-4, but kept chipping away at UK’s lead behind six first-set kills from Rigdon. Eventually a 7-2 run gave KU a 20-17 lead and Kentucky’s fifth service error of the set gave KU set point, 24-20. Kentucky make a late push though, forcing four KU set points before Havili won a joust at the middle of the net to clinch KU’s first-set triumph.
Kansas and Kentucky traded runs in the second to set up a 25-20 decision for KU. Immediately following a 4-0 Kentucky run, Kansas responded with a 6-0 run of its own to 9-7 lead and force a UK timeout. The Jayhawks would not surrender their lead for the remainder of the second set as senior middle blocker Taylor Alexander and sophomore outside hitter Jada Burse each scored four kills to lead the second-set offense.
KU’s offense was firing on all cylinders to clinch the sweep with a 25-20 third-set victory. The Jayhawks totaled 20 kills on a .417 hitting percentage in the third set, led by seven kills each from Payne and Rigdon.
Kentucky falls to 5-2 after a pair of road losses to top-10 teams in the last three days. The Wildcats were led by 14 kills from Avery Skinner and 33 assists from Kansas City native Madison Lilley.
Kansas improves to 3-1 against top-25 nonconference teams at home since 2012.
The Kansas Invitational (Sept. 8-9) kicks off with Ohio Valley Conference preseason favorite Belmont on Friday, Sept. 8, followed by No. 21 Purdue later that night. The event concludes with a top-10 matchup between the ninth-ranked Jayhawks and No. 8 Creighton on Saturday night.
During Monday’s match, the AVCA Coaches Poll was updated. The undefeated Jayhawks moved up from No. 9 to No. 7 in the latest rankings, while Kentucky remained at No. 13. View the latest poll here.
Head Coach Ray Bechard
Obviously, the thing that really stands out is hitting .390 – that’s a really good number against a team like Kentucky. We’re hitting about .270 for the year. If you look at Kelsie and Madison – 30 kills in three days. Rigdon was outstanding, Payne was outstanding. But you know, Kentucky has weapons of their own. They’re going to have a great, great year. I thought we just got enough done defensively to make a difference converting some balls. Havili had a huge momentum play in the first set when she pushed back and got that down. I thought from there we kind of controlled things a little bit.
On Ainise Havili’s performance against Kentucky:
First and foremost, we’ve got a great setter. She spread it around just enough. Taylor Alexander got six kills in two sets, and Rigdon and Payne handled their duties. Jada [Burse] got off to a slow start but got things going, too. We got good attackers but we’ve got a good setter that puts them in that really good position.
On Kelsie Payne’s versatility and performance:
We can move her around, so she’s hard to scout and we can get the match up we want with her. Once again, 14 kills on two errors, we’ll take that anytime.
On getting win at beginning of busy week:
Certainly this will allow for some momentum going into this week. Belmont’s going to be excited to play, they have local players; Purdue is undefeated; Creighton is top-10. There’s a lot to prepare for.
On Allie Nelson growing into Cassie Wait’s role:
She’s doing great. She’s going to have her moments where she’ll stub her toe, but she’s a high level communicator. She’s a great teammate and she works her butt off. She’s in the gym more than anybody and all those things together will create a great result for her.
Senior RS Kelsie Payne
On Madison Rigdon’s role during the match:
“Huge, yeah that’s huge, she’s always a consistent player so for her come out like that started that spark that I was talking about, it was like okay were going now so it was really good for her”
On momentum of beating a top-15 team:
“Yeah it’s huge, this was a really big game and coming in this is important for RPI and all that stuff and to be able to play a really good team it’s good for us to learn more about ourselves, this is a really big win for us”
Senior OH Madison Rigdon
On biggest difference in the last two matches:
“I think we came together as a team and we really knew this team was going to be a good team to play and we stopped it and scouted really well I think and we just came together as a team and played really well”
On what learned from this match:
“We played as a team and there was no stopping us, we can control our side of the court and we know they’re a good team, they’re gonna do their kills but if we just think about our side we’re a really good team”
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