Albers Powers No. 24 Kansas Past American, 3-1
VILLANOVA, Pa. – Losing the opening set for the first time this season sparked a momentum swing for the ages as senior Chelsea Albers’ and her career-high 22 kills powered No. 24 Kansas to a comeback victory against American to start an elite Saturday at the Villanova Classic, 19-25, 25-20, 25-16, 25-17.
Kansas (9-1) and American (4-4) both advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 a year ago as the Eagles have held a long reign in the Patriot League with 14 conference championships in the last 17 seasons. The Eagles, who are receiving votes in the latest AVCA poll, showed their strengths by handing the Jayhawks their first loss in an opening set this season. On the hunt for an upset, American charged ahead in to a 9-4 lead in set two. Kansas head coach Ray Bechard called a timeout – and the Jayhawks flipped the switch.
“They played at a level that we knew they were going to play at. They are very clean offensively. We just couldn’t get into a defense rhythm. I thought we were siding out ok, but defensively we finally settled down in the second set – boy, we really played well after that.”
Albers was the key. The returning Honorable Mention All-American sure looked the part on Saturday. Although she led the Jayhawks with five kills in the opening set, her morning was just getting started. Fighting to get her team on the right track, Albers recorded the team’s first block of the match in set two to close the Eagles’ lead to three points. Moments later, she and sophomore middle blocker Tayler Soucie teamed up for the block that gave Kansas the lead, 18-17. The Jayhawks would never trail again.
By the final whistle, Albers broke the 20-kill plateau for the first time, finishing the match with a career-best 22 kills. She tallied her third double-double of the year with her 11 digs, and added five blocks to top it off. In the pivotal third set, that broke the tie in favor of the Jayhawks, she erupted for nine kills on 14 swings without a single error.
“She had the look today for sure,” Bechard said. “I think they tried to wear her out by making her pass a bunch, but her and Ainise (Havili) were connecting at a high level today.”
Albers had a full cast behind her to pull off the first 0-1 comeback since knocking off Kansas State in four sets last season at home. Soucie helped Albers at the net with a team-high seven blocks and chalked up seven kills to match. Fellow middle Kayla Cheadle set the pace from the efficiency angle, blasting 10 kills and no errors for a match-high .476 mark.
Sophomore libero Cassie Wait, as she’s been all weekend, was stellar as the defensive captain and led the team with 15 kills. The same can be said for freshman setter Ainise Havili who just missed a double-double with 49 assists and nine digs. She was an assassin from the service line, serving up a career-high five aces, the most by a Jayhawk since Sept. 3, 2010 (Morgan Boub, 6 vs. Arkansas).
Looking all kinds of athletic in the morning match, the Jayhawks got an early boost from a diving save from Wait. Cheadle got the ball up to Havili, who put a strong swing on it for the kill and the 5-3 lead. Albers blew up the defense with a pair of crushing attacks, but the Eagles quickly responded with their size. A string of blocks sparked a 15-12 American lead and KU’s first timeout. When the Eagles pushed their run out to 7-1, Bechard used his final whistle of the set. Nevertheless, the Eagles handed KU its first 0-1 deficit of the year, 25-19.
Set two started in similar fashion. Back-to-back American kills put Kansas in an early hole. A timeout was needed before the 10-point mark was breached with KU trailing, 9-4. With AU’s block posing problems, the Jayhawks had to match the defensive intensity on their own side. Covering an attack, Wait got the ball up, but it went behind her. Freshman defensive specialist Addison Barry sprang into action, sprinting to the edge of the court to send the ball back over. When American pulled back to swing, Albers was waiting. Her solo block cut the American lead to three, 12-9.
The play sparked the Jayhawks. When Soucie assisted Albers and Sara McClinton on consecutive blocks, KU claimed its first lead of the set, 18-17. Riding an offensive – and defensive – charge from Soucie and Albers, Kansas hit the gas. A big end-game swing from junior outside hitter Tiana Dockery tied the match at a set apiece, 25-20.
The momentum swing was tremendous. Bechard discussed on Friday the need for his team to come out of breaks with more focus and intensity. Following the brief intermission, the Jayhawks did exactly that. Albers was a force, pounding out an insane nine kills and no errors. The Jayhawks had found the crack needed to kick opportunity’s door wide open. Kansas crushed for a .353 attack percentage and held American to a mere .094, putting away any doubt of which direction the momentum swing went. KU took the 2-1 lead with the convincing 25-16 score.
If set three was convincing, the fourth frame carved the tablet thanks to an 8-0 start by the Jayhawks. Albers and Soucie were constantly up at the net, swatting away attacks. Not to mention, the senior from Papillion’s first kill of the set broke her previous career high of 18 vs. Creighton – the match that sent the Jayhawks to the Sweet 16 a year ago. Albers tacked on three more as she and Cheadle logged their final kills to bring the Jayhawks to set point. A service error ended it at 25-17, giving Kansas the four-set win.
- Head coach Ray Bechard collected career win No. 998 on Saturday against American.
- KU is 9-1 to start the season for the second time in three years. The Jayhawks started the 2012 season at 11-1.
- Senior outside hitter Sara McClinton needs 79 kills to pass Jana Correa (1,131; 2003-06) for 10th on the all-time Kansas career list.
- Senior outside hitter Chelsea Albers recorded her 10th career double-double.
- The match against American marked the third time this season that freshman middle blocker Kayla Cheadle led the Jayhawks in attack percentage.
- Freshman setter Ainise Havili broke the 400-assist mark in the win. Through 10 matches, she has 403 assists.
- Freshman defensive specialist Addison Barry tied her career-high for the fourth time with eight digs.
- Kansas has held every opponent to less than .200 attack percentage this season.
No. 24 Kansas will finish the Villanova Classic with the program’s first meeting against the defending National Champion, No. 3 Penn State, at 4:30 p.m. CT.
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