No. 24 Kansas Blocks Out Villanova to Open Classic, 3-0
VILLANOVA, Pa. – Sophomore middle blocker Tayler Soucie returned to action in a big way with a season-high 10 blocks to lead 24th-ranked Kansas past the weekend’s host team to open the Villanova Classic with a sweep, 25-12, 27-25, 25-19.
Kansas (7-1) took part in a major first for Villanova (4-4) as Friday morning’s match marked the first time volleyball has ever been played in The Pavilion, the home of Villanova basketball. The Jayhawks held commanding leads in the first and third sets and fought off set point multiple times in set two to come away with their fourth sweep of the season.
“It’s really important to start with a 3-0 win,” head coach Ray Bechard said. “We play so much volleyball this weekend that if we can come out, do good work and not have to over-extend ourselves that’s the route to go. Obviously, that was a good start and it was a critical comeback in the second set, to make it possible for the 3-0 win.”
Making her first start in five matches, Soucie led the floor with 10 blocks to power a strong defensive stand that out-blocked the Wildcats, 14-5. Three different Jayhawks came up with double-digit digs, led by 11 from freshman setter Ainise Havili. The Preseason Big 12 Freshman of the Year recorded her third-straight double-double, and fourth of the season, with her 33 assists added to her dig tally. Sophomore libero Cassie Wait and senior outside hitter Chelsea Albers dug 10 balls apiece.
Offensively, no Jayhawks posted double-digit kills thanks to a well-balanced attack and a quick match. Outside hitters Madison Rigdon and Albers churned out a combined 17 kills and two errors, including a combined 10 kills and no errors in the pivotal second set. Freshman middle blocker Kayla Cheadle led the floor with a .455 attack efficiency.
On the other side of the net, Kansas held its opponent to under .100 hitting percentage for the third time this season (.078). Junior outside hitter Lauren Carpenter led the team with eight kills, but those were offset by her nine errors.
Soucie registered a pair of kills and freshman defensive specialist Addison Barry sparked the Jayhawks’ hot start, building a 9-3 advantage before the home team called its first timeout. An ace from Rigdon fueled the fire and Kansas raced ahead, 15-7. Though Kansas charged forward to take a double-digit advantage, the Wildcats helped with 10 combined attack and service errors in the opening frame. Cheadle led the set with three kills and no errors, but the opposing side committed seven errors to overshadow the seven kills. KU took the lead with the 25-12 win, its second-largest set victory of the year.
In set two, the home team began to warm up. After jumping out to a 4-1 lead, the Wildcats connected much more consistently on kill shots to tighten the margin, 6-5. When a block from Havili and Cheadle put the Jayhawks up 9-5, the Jayhawks looked to put the same separation between the teams as they did in set one.
The Wildcats instead answered with a 4-1 rally to knot the score, 10-10. A kill-block combo from the Wildcats handed them their first lead of the match, 13-11. Now in scrappy situation, the Jayhawks had to battle. Outside hitters Sara McClinton and Tiana Dockery swung for kills to reclaim the lead. The same duo closed on a block to take the 16-15 edge, and again the Wildcats answered. Winning the war to 20, Villanova forced a Jayhawk timeout as they fell behind 22-20. Though KU came out of the pause to tie the score, the Wildcats fought their way to set point, 24-22.
Albers and Soucie went up for a block to rail against set point the first time. Rigdon blasted a kill across to fight it off again, 24-24. To their credit, the Wildcats came back with a kill to again put themselves in contention to win the set. Albers and Rigdon said no. Their back-to-back kills put the set away and handed KU the 2-0 lead, 27-25.
Offense ultimately put the set away, but the defense made it possible. The Jayhawks tallied 25 digs in the second set alone and Wait and Barry set the tone early in set three, as well. KU shook off a 6-5 deficit with a 5-0 run, pushing out to a 10-6 advantage and a Villanova timeout. Havili made sure that the defensive specialists didn’t take on sole responsibility for keeping the ball off the floor. Her diving dig resulted in a Kansas point after Nova sailed it out of bounds, 13-9. As expected, the home squad had a response and pulled within a point. Yet even after KU won the 20-point race, Nova stayed close at 20-19. A kill from McClinton kept the Wildcats at bay before Soucie’s kill brought the Jayhawks to match point. Fittingly, Soucie’s 10th block closed out the sweep, 25-19.
- Head coach Ray Bechard collected career win No. 996 on Friday against Villanova.
- Senior outside hitter Sara McClinton needs 92 kills to pass Jana Correa (1,131; 2003-06) for 10th on the all-time Kansas career list.
- Sophomore middle blocker Tayler Soucie recorded double-digit blocks for the second time in her career. Her career high is 12 (vs. Creighton, 9/10/13).
- Sophomore libero Cassie Wait dished out a career-high six assists.
- Freshman setter Ainise Havili is on a three-match double-double streak. She passed the 300-assist mark for the season in the win (320).
- Kansas has held every opponent to less than a .200 attack percentage this season.
Kansas will take on four-time Ivy League defending champion, Yale, to close day one. First serve between the Jayhawks and Bulldogs is set for 4 p.m. CT.
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