No. 9 Kansas sweeps Utah Valley for 4-0 start
OREM, Utah – Ninth-ranked Kansas volleyball opened the Wolverine Invitational with a straight-set win over host Utah Valley on Thursday night at Lockhart Arena (25-20, 25-19, 25-23). The Jayhawks improve to 4-0 on the season behind a fourth-straight double-double from setter Ainise Havili and 18 kills from right-side hitter Kelsie Payne.
The pair of senior All-Americans led Kansas’ efficient offensive outing, which featured a season-high team hitting percentage of .310 and a 53-to-36 advantage in kills over Utah Valley (1-4). Payne’s 18 kills came on a .516 hitting percentage as she cracked KU’s top-10 list for career kills (1,155). In addition to Havili’s match-high in digs, she poured in seven kills to nearly reach her first career triple-double in just three sets.
“We were pretty steady from an offensive standpoint tonight,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard said. “Kelsie was really good and I thought Ashley (Smith) fared well in her first start. On top of that, Ainise scored a lot for us. She had big kills and led us in digs, so she held everything together and we got just enough offense out of everybody else.
Sophomore outside hitter Ashley Smith got the starting nod for the first time of the season and second time of her career, contributing eight kills on a .350 hitting percentage. Senior All-American outside hitter Madison Rigdon added 11 kills for her fourth double-figure kill effort in as many matches this season.
Kansas won the first set, 25-20, but not without a fight from Utah Valley. The Jayhawks held the Wolverines within an arm’s reach early in the first set before KU broke a 17-17 tie with a 6-1 run to take a 23-18 lead during Havili’s serve. Payne closed the book on the first set with back-to-back kills for KU’s 24th and 25th points of the set.
Kansas took a two-set lead into intermission with a 25-19 second-set victory. KU’s “little’s” – defensive specialists – guided the Jayhawks to an early 12-6 advantage in the second set with effective serving from sophomore libero Allie Nelson, senior Tori Miller and senior Addison Barry. Payne moved into 10th-place on KU’s career kills list with her 10th kill in the second set. The “Payne Train” kept rolling to the tune of eight kills in the second set alone, including another kill on set point.
“I would say half of those kills were from the back row, which got us out of some binds,” Bechard commented on Payne’s effort. “She was hitting high off hands (of the block). It was a really good effort by her tonight.”
Utah Valley recorded five of its 10.5 total blocks in the third set to keep pace with the Jayhawks until Havili willed her team to a 25-23 match-clinching win. Havili, lifted by more than 50 friends and family in the arena, staved off a late Wolverine rally with a shifty setter’s dump on match point.
Kansas improves to 4-0 in the all-time series against Utah Valley. The last time the teams met in the 2014 season-opener, it marked the career debuts for KU’s current senior class – Payne, Havili, Rigdon, Miller, Barry and Kayla Cheadle.
On day two of the Wolverine Invitational, Kansas faces Long Beach State at 3 p.m. Central on Friday. Live coverage of the match will be available on FloVolleyball.com and KUAthletics.com/radio.
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