No. 8 Kansas aces NC State for season-opening win
RALEIGH, N.C. – Eighth-ranked Kansas volleyball opened the season on Friday evening with a four-set road victory over NC State at Reynolds Coliseum in the first match of the Wolfpack Invitational (25-20, 25-23, 23-25, 26-24). Senior All-American outside hitter Madison Rigdon led the Jayhawks with a double-double, while also securing KU’s fifth-straight road-opening win with an ace on match point.
“That was exactly what we need – a match of a great caliber away from home against a team that will have a good season,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard said. “I like the way we started the match and closed out the fourth set. The dig total was great – I thought Allie (Nelson) was great. Ainise (Havili) played great defense, too. Rigdon really made some big plays at the end, including one big-time serve to end the match.”
Rigdon ended the match with her 22nd career double-double of 15 digs and a team-high 17 kills. The Big 12’s reigning leader in aces per set also whipped two aces in the Jayhawks’ season opener. Senior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne added 16 kills and eight digs on the night.
Led by first-year starting libero Allie Nelson, the KU defense held NC State (0-1) to 51 kills on a .201 hitting percentage. Nelson finished with a career-high 22 digs and six assists. The Jayhawks (1-0) totaled 82 digs to NC State’s 73.
“Allie was really good,” Bechard added. “I thought she passed well – 22 digs is a good number. To see her performing at a high level in her first match as our starting primary libero is very encouraging.”
Senior All-American setter Ainise Havili recorded a double-double of 54 assists and matched Nelson’s 22 digs. Her 22 digs ties a career high set during a five-set victory over No. 1 USC in the 2015 NCAA Tournament regional finals.
Kansas was fueled to first- and second-set victories behind sophomore outside hitter Jada Burse’s terminal attack, which resulted in 11 error-less kills in the pair of opening sets. Burse would not record a single attacking error until late in the third set and ended the night with 15 kills on a .233 clip.
Kansas gained momentum towards a 20-25 first-set victory as Nelson registered KU’s first ace of the season. The ace was followed closely by points from senior middle blocker Taylor Alexander, whose first kill as a Jayhawk and block-assist with Payne put KU ahead, 10-5. As NC State rallied, Burse broke a 5-0 Wolfpack run with back-to-back kills to all but end the set as she accounted for six kills in KU’s last 10 points of the first set.
In the second set, NC State took a brief lead of 4-2, before Rigdon responded with a pair of dynamic kills. The Pflugerville, Texas, native helped fuel a 5-0 run for a 9-5 KU lead.
NC State nearly erased a 17-12 Kansas lead after Kylie Pickrell registered an ace to bring the Wolfpack within one, 20-19. Havili answered the call to keep NC State at bay with a setter’s dump kill to force a timeout. The Wolfpack would regroup to come within one point again, 24-23, but a service error by Becky Porter gave KU the 25-23 second-set decision.
Kansas stormed back from a 23-18 deficit in the fourth set, but its late run came up just short of sweeping NC State in three sets. The Wolfpack held on for a 25-23 run despite quality serves from senior Tori Miller, including an ace, and a combined four kills between Payne and Rigdon during KU’s late 5-1 run.
Kansas recovered from another deficit early in the fourth set but sustained its momentum longer for a crucial 7-2 run, which gave the Jayhawks a 17-14 lead. Kansas recorded four of its seven blocks in the fourth set, including a block from Payne and sophomore Zoe Hill for a 19-17 lead.
But NC State would respond to take a 23-22 lead after terminating a KU overpass. After the teams traded kills, the Wolfpack once again had set point, 24-23. Rigdon answered with an emphatic kill to tie the set at 24. Rigdon also toke the ball to the service line to set up a kill by Payne which gave KU match point, 25-24.
Rigdon dialed up an ace down the middle-back line that split the NC State defense and ended the match with a 26-24 fourth-set victory for the Jayhawks.
Kansas continues play in the Wolfpack Invitational tomorrow with a doubleheader. The Jayhawks face Missouri State at 9:30 a.m. Central, followed by a rematch against NC State at 6 p.m. Central. Coverage can be heard on KUAthletics.com/radio. The KU-NC State match will be video streamed on ACC Network Extra via WatchESPN.com or the ESPN app.
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