No. 9 Kansas sweeps Montana, captures Wolverine Invite title
OREM, Utah – Ninth-ranked Kansas volleyball captured the Wolverine Invitational title with a straight-set victory over Montana on Saturday at Lockhart Arena (25-9, 25-22, 25-16).
Senior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne was named the tournament’s MVP, while senior All-American outside hitter Madison Rigdon and sophomore outside hitter Jada Burse were awarded all-tournament honors. Payne finished the weekend with 10 kills against the Griz and averaged 4.80 kills per set on a .389 hitting percentage during the three-day event. Rigdon finished with 11 kills, seven digs and five aces on Saturday. Burse totaled 20 kills on the weekend with four blocks.
“I was just really excited about how we came out in the first set in all phases of our game,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard said. “We finally got a little more offense from the service line, especially with Rigdon’s effort. Through the ebb and flow of the match, we lost some momentum for different reasons but we made some good plays at the end of the second set and controlled the third set very well.
Kansas (6-0) has won 32 of the last 33 regular-season matches against nonconference opponents. The Wolverine Invite title gives KU its 10th nonconference tournament title in the last 11 tries.
Senior All-American setter Ainise Havili recorded her sixth-straight double-double on Saturday with 33 assists and 10 digs against Montana (3-3).
The Jayhawks started the match with a dominating 25-9 first-set victory, which tied for KU’s third-largest first-set margin of victory in the 25-point set scoring era.
Senior defensive specialist Tori Miller made her first start since her freshman season in 2014 to give Burse, who Miller regularly subs in for in the back row, an ideal matchup against Montana.
“It was a matchup – we wanted Jada on their No. 20,” Bechard said. “Jada did a great job in taking No. 20’s best shot away. So that was just about a matchup for us.”
Rigdon’s first of five aces on the day came early in the first set, giving Kansas a 4-0 lead. KU’s middle blockers got off to a hot start as well with sophomore Zoe Hill and senior Kayla Cheadle accounting for four of KU’s first eight points. Hill’s fourth kill of the first set gave Kansas a 17-5 lead. Rigdon expanded KU’s lead to 20-6 with a kill late in the first.
Kansas held Montana to a -.250 hitting percentage in the first set while recording three aces to open the match – one each from Rigdon, Havili and Miller.
Sophomore newcomer Mmachi Nwoke started at middle blocker in the second set and didn’t wait long to record her first block as a Jayhawk. Nwoke teamed up with Burse for a block-assist to give Kansas an early 3-1 lead. Kansas worked its way to a 10-6 lead as Addison Barry recorded her first ace of the season.
Montana kept pace with the Jayhawks with crafty and well-placed attacks and a pair of aces which led to a 15-15 tie midway through the second set. Montana’s only leads of the set would be 20-19 and 21-20 before Rigdon took over. The 2016 All-American recorded two kills and two aces during KU’s 5-1 run to win the second set, 25-22.
Rigdon finished the second set with five kills on nine errorless swings and three aces.
Montana made its way to a 10-6 lead early in the third set behind three aces, but the aggressive serving would not keep Kansas at bay for long as the Jayhawks rattled off a 9-1 run to swing the momentum and all but secure the sweep. Payne and Rigdon combined for nine of KU’s 15 kills in the third set. Payne clinched the Wolverine Invitational title and MVP honors with a kill on match point to send Kansas home with a 6-0 record.
KU’s stellar 28-2 record at home the last two seasons will be put to the test with a home-opening week that will prove to be one of the most challenging weeks for any team in the nation this season. The Jayhawks’ four home nonconference matches include three nationally-ranked teams that advanced in the NCAA Tournament last season and two preseason favorites to win their respective conferences.
The week starts with a Labor Day matchup against No. 13 Kentucky on Monday, Sept. 4. The Kansas Invitational 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.
WOLVERINE INVITATIONAL ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
MVP: Kelsie Payne, KANSAS
Madison Rigdon, KANSAS
Jada Burse, KANSAS
Madison Dennison, Utah Valley
Sierra Starley, Utah Valley
Megan Kruidhof, Long Beach State
Bailey Permann, Montana
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