Payne shines as No. 4 Kansas sweeps Northern Iowa, 3-0
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Northern Iowa tested fourth-ranked Kansas volleyball late in sets one and three, but the Jayhawks remained undefeated while putting on a show in front of a sold-out crowd inside Horejsi Family Athletics Center on Saturday night. The Jayhawks improved to 9-0 by sweeping the Panthers, 3-0 (26-24, 25-17, 25-23), led by 25 kills from junior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne.
KU’s 9-0 start now ties for the third-best start in program history. All four of KU’s 9-0 starts or better have come under head coach Ray Bechard.
“(Northern Iowa) is as good of ball handling team as we’ll see all season,” Bechard said. “Kelsie Payne was phenomenal tonight from an attacking standpoint. I thought we had as much fun as we’ve had all year.”
The Jayhawks arrived at their ninth win of the season with terminal attacks from Payne, who reached 25 kills on a .487 hitting percentage – needing only three sets come within one kill of her career high. Senior libero Cassie Wait continued to provide elite defensive support on the back row as she led a KU defense which held UNI to a .161 hitting percentage while recording 20 digs of her own. Wait has five-straight 20-dig performances and is averaging a jaw-dropping 6.3 digs per set during that stretch.
Kansas took an early 6-3 lead after junior All-American Ainise Havili found a perfect spot for a setter’s dump for her lone kill of the night. From the onset, UNI’s defense didn’t have a cure for their Payne problem as KU’s primary attacker registered eight kills in the opening set.
Kansas surged to a 23-18 lead in the first, but UNI recovered to tie the set at 24, forcing a timeout from Coach Bechard to regroup. Havili set to Payne on back-to-back plays coming out of the timeout, and Payne delivered with consecutive kills to finally close the door on a 26-24 first-set victory.
Four of junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon’s six kills came in the first set on eight errorless swings.
UNI held an early lead in the second set, but back-to-back successful video replay challenges from Kansas put the Jayhawks in control. KU began to pull away during a 7-0 run featured three challenges – two successful from KU and one unsuccessful from UNI. Junior defensive specialist Tori Miller registered KU’s lone ace of the night to cap-off the 7-0 run and give KU an 18-11 lead.
“I thought the key was in the middle of the second set when we evoked that culture of hard work, scrap and win the longer rallies,” Bechard said.
KU’s side-out rate was 88 percent in the second set; Northern Iowa had consecutive serves only twice during the second set. After Payne recorded a kill to give Kansas a side-out and put Kansas within one, 6-5, the Panthers did not hold back-to-back serves for the rest of the set.
In order to get the three-set sweep, Kansas recovered from a slow start and a three-point deficit, 12-9. Later in the set while facing a 20-19 deficit, redshirt freshman Patricia Montero gave Kansas a lift. The Puerto Rican connected on three kills to score three of the last four points for KU, including a kill on match point to clinch the victory, 25-23.
Kansas travels to Indiana to compete in the Stacey Clark Classic, hosted by No. 20 Purdue, Sept. 16-17. The Boilermakers will anticipate a rise in the AVCA Coaches Poll on Monday after knocking off No. 9 Stanford on the road on Saturday night.
The Jayhawks begin play in the Stacy Clark Classic on Friday morning against Xavier (11 a.m.), followed by a nightcap against Purdue (6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network Plus) that same day. KU wraps up regular-season nonconference play against Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday at noon.
The next time Kansas plays in front of its home crowd at Horejsi Family Athletics Center, it will be Big 12 Conference season. KU’s Big 12 opener is against Oklahoma on Wednesday, Sept. 21 (6 p.m., ESPNU).
BLUEJAY INVITATIONAL TITLE & AWARDS
Although Kansas did not play in the final day of the Bluejay Invitational, the event concluded on Saturday and released the MVP and All-Tournament Team honors. Junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon earned her second-straight nonconference tourney MVP after totaling 39 kills, 22 digs and six aces in only two matches. Senior libero Cassie Wait and junior All-American setter Ainise Havili were listed on the All-Tournament Team. Wait’s 33 digs during KU’s five-set win over host Creighton set a Bluejay Invitational record.
In addition to the individual awards, Kansas clinched its eight-straight nonconference tournament title with a 2-0 record in Omaha. See the tourney’s standings below.
Bluejay Invitational All-Tournament Team
Madison Rigdon, KANSAS (MVP)
Cassie Wait, KANSAS
Ainise Havili, KANSAS
Lydia Dimke, Creighton
Taryn Kloth, Creighton
Regan McGuire, TCU
Kristy Wieser, Chattanooga
Bluejay Invitational Final Standings
1. No. 4 KANSAS * (2-0)
2. Creighton (2-1)
3. TCU * (1-1)
4. Chattanooga (0-3)
*TCU and Kansas did not face each other since both already meet twice in Big 12 play
KU’s 9-0 start now ties for the third-best start in program history, trailing only last season’s Final Four team which started 19-0, the 2001 season’s 10-0 start and the 2000 season’s 9-0 start. All four flourishing starts have been under the tutelage of head coach Ray Bechard.
Year – Start (Finish)
2015 – 19-0 (30-3, 14-2 Big 12, NCAA Final Four)
2001 – 10-0 (16-15, 6-14 Big 12)
2016 – 9-0 (?)
2000 – 9-0 (15-14, 6-14 Big 12)
Head Coach Ray Bechard
On Kelsie Payne:
“I think she has high expectations for herself. I think she’s worried about everybody thinking she has to be perfect on every play. She’s a gifted kid, but she makes errors too. I’m just really proud of how she responded tonight. I think she had nine kills in the second set. That’s important for us but obviously the balance in our offense is going to be important as we move forward.”
On Northern Iowa:
“UNI wants to stick around and play for a couple hours and we just didn’t want to do that. They went five with some other teams this year a couple times. They played a tough schedule. They are a good team. They’ll get some big time wins in the Missouri Valley. You have to remember they went to the NCAA tournament last year.”
On KU’s outlook this season:
“I think we just had a little more balance last year and we’re still trying to find our way. Every coach that I’ve talked to before we’ve played them has said, ‘we’re just trying to find our way’ and so are the Jayhawks. You have a year like last year and it’s just not going to be the same. We’re going to move parts and pieces. The expectations are a whole different piece that you have to deal with. You’re 9-0 but you have to realize there are a lot of things you need to work on. More than the record though, we’ve got to work on some offensive balance.
“We played great at the end of last year, but we were 30 matches in so even though we’ve played about a third of our schedule already, there’s still a lot to work on. I watch a lot of volleyball around the country and everybody has issues this time of year. Last year you couldn’t really tell we had issues because we were pretty consistent. We’re up and down a little this year because we’re still trying to figure out who we are in some ways.”
Junior RS Kelsie Payne
On her performance tonight:
“My defenders behind me dug up everything perfectly. Ainise (Havili) is also an amazing setter. She puts the ball right where I need it and it helps a lot.”
On being 9-0:
“It feels amazing. It’s awesome. This is one of our goals for the year, to keep up that expectation of excellence.”
On how the team prepares for matches:
“We just take it one game at a time. We make sure that we are rested, hydrated and give each team the best focus that we can. Today it was all about UNI. We just try to go 1-0 on the day.”
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