No. 24 Kansas Buckles Down to Beat UMKC, 3-1

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 Senior outside hitter Sara McClinton’s 18 kills were key in lifting the 24th-ranked Kansas volleyball team past a sluggish start Tuesday night and defeating a defensively-focused UMKC squad in four sets, 25-23, 17-25, 26-24, 25-19 inside the Horejsi Family Athletics Center.
Freshman outside hitter Madison Rigdon struck 15 kills on a night points didn’t come easy between the two teams. When the Jayhawks needed it most, McClinton and fellow senior outside hitter Chelsea Albers – 11 kills, four blocks, seven digs – provided a veteran presence that was key in Kansas (6-1) holding off a UMKC team (4-3) that out blocked the Jayhawks by the widest margin of the season, 12-4.  
Afterward, KU’s Ray Bechard had plenty to say about his opposing head coach. UMKC’s Christi Posey was on Bechard’s staff for 11 seasons before taking the ‘Roos head coaching spot four years ago. Her associate head coach, Trent Jones, also worked on Bechard’s staff from 2002-03.
“UMKC is going to have a good year,” head coach Ray Bechard said. “Had a couple of breaks gone their way, tonight could’ve been different. We made some volleyball plays late. When we needed to close the door, we did. But from my vantage point, that’s the best team she’s had and they continue to get better every year. Now we can cheer for them to win every match.”
Despite a .195 team attack percentage, freshman setter Ainise Havili spread the ball around on offense for a game-high 42 assists while collecting her third double-double of the year with 12 digs. Sophomore libero Cassie Wait bolstered the defense, leading the floor with 23 digs to go along with a career-best six assists.
Even though UMKC junior middle hitter Emma Hagedorn swung for 12 kills and was successful on half of her attempts, the Kangaroos made their biggest mark on defense. Thanks in large part to sophomore outside hitter Taylor Buhrow’s game-high seven blocks, UMKC recorded 22 block assists on the night. Buhrow wasn’t alone in effectively defending the net as three other UMKC players recorded five or more blocks, Hagedorn (6), junior right side hitter Sydney Crimmins (5) and senior middle hitter Melissa Hartsel (5).    
The match began with Kansas bursting out of the gate to a 5-1 lead, but shifted when the Jayhawks were unable to maintain momentum. In the midst of a 10-2 Kangaroo run, they surrendered their lead, 11-7. Seeing the lead slip away, Bechard burned a timeout to try to slow down the UMKC offense. The attempt proved to be unsuccessful as the Kangaroos forged on, distancing the gap to as many as eight points, 15-7 midway through the opening period. A string of errors and a couple of timely kills from Albers helped the Jayhawks claw back. Trailing 19-15, KU reeled off three-straight points thanks to Albers, Rigdon and freshman middle blocker Kayla Cheadle each notching kills. Kansas trailed by only one 19-18 heading into a Kansas City timeout. A few points later, tied at 20, several impressive diving saves from Wait paved the way for the Jayhawks to steal away a point and take a 21-20 advantage. Overcoming a slow start, the offense picked up and behind a restless crowd, a couple of kills from McClinton helped the Jayhawks close out the first set, 25-23.
As the second set played out it became clear that the ‘Roos wouldn’t be phased by the noisy atmosphere in Horejsi after Kansas managed to battle back to claim the opening 25 points. The Kangaroos raced out to an 11-6 lead in the second set, sucking the newfound enthusiasm out of the building. At the 15-point media timeout, UMKC led by six, 15-9 and looked to pull away. Fortunately for Kansas, the break in the action caused the ‘Roos to go cold on the offensive side of the net as three-straight errors ensued allowing KU to shorten the deficit to three points, 15-12. McClinton and Albers did all they could to keep their squad close, combining for seven of the nine total kills the Jayhawks recorded in period two. The Kangaroos consistently stuffed Kansas at the net and the Jayhawks were unable to exploit the UMKC offensive miscues and fell behind by six points, eventually dropping the second set for the first time in seven tries all year, 25-17.  
The intermission between sets two and three had no effect on either squad’s play as UMKC once again jumped out to an early lead. Trailing 13-11, Havili stepped up to serve and struck an ace, helping KU secure six of the next seven points to build a one digit lead, 15-14. A back-and-forth affair took place with the teams trading points until Kansas City took a two point lead, 22-20 forcing a Kansas timeout. Following the short break, the ball was set to McClinton on consecutive possessions and she answered the call with back-to-back kills to knot it up, 22-22. After two errors, KU was down to its last point when McClinton once again responded with another kill. UMKC followed up with an error and finally freshman middle blocker Kelsie Payne ended the third set in dramatic fashion with a thunderous kill in the middle of the court, 26-24.
UMKC wouldn’t surrender without a fight in what would be the fourth and final set of the match. Kansas came out swinging and built a small lead, 11-8 behind senior leaders McClinton and Albers. Contrary to the first three sets where UMKC had their way on the defensive side of the net, out blocking the Jayhawks 10-1, Cheadle and Albers turned the tables on the ‘Roos and teamed up to deny two Kansas City attacks over a four-point span seizing a commanding 18-14 lead. Up 21-15 and staring at a 3-1 victory, the Jayhawks never looked back, winning the final set 25-19 and taking the match 3-1. 

  • Head coach Ray Bechard collected career win No. 995 on Tuesday against UMKC.
  • Senior outside hitter Sara McClinton needs 100 kills to pass Jana Correa (1,131; 2003-06) for 10th on the all-time Kansas career list.
  • Sophomore libero Cassie Wait dished out a career-high six assists.
  • Freshman setter Ainise Havili tossed around 42 assists, marking the fourth time in seven matches the Preseason Big 12 Freshman of the Year has assisted on 40 or more points. She also tallied her third double-double.
  • Kansas held its opponent to an attack percentage under .200 for the sixth time this season.

Kansas will turn its focus to one of the most difficult pre-conference tournaments in the Bechard era when the Jayhawks travel to Philadelphia for the Villanova Invitational, Sept. 12-13. The Jayhawks will square off against the host school, Villanova, to open the elite weekend. KU then takes on four-time Ivy League defending champion, Yale, to close day one. Saturday will prove as the ultimate test for Kansas, matching up against a fellow Sweet 16 team, American, in the morning and finishing the weekend with defending NCAA Champion, Penn State.  The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.