No. 15 Kansas Outlasts K-State in Big 12 Opener, 3-1
LAWRENCE, Kan. – No. 15 Kansas Volleyball went to Kelsie Payne early and often in the Big 12 opener on Wednesday night in front of a capacity crowd at Horejsi Family Athletics Center. The sophomore right-side hitter finished with 20 kills to lead the undefeated Jayhawks to a 3-1 (25-23, 19-25, 25-22, 25-21) win over Kansas State in the Dillons Sunflower Showdown.
Kansas (13-0) built upon its unprecedented winning streak — the longest to begin a season in program history — with four Jayhawks reaching double-figure kills and five reaching double-figure digs. Kansas and K-State combined for 37 ties and 17 lead changes and each set was decided by an average margin of 3.8 points.
“Both teams played very hard defensively,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard said. “Welcome to the Big 12, it’s going to be like that. You’ve got to grind out wins and we had to work hard against a good team. We are very excited to be 1-0 in the league right now.”
Junior libero Cassie Wait tied her career-high 27 digs for the fourth time to lead KU’s team effort of 83 digs. Senior outside hitter Tiana Dockery (11 kills, 10 digs) and sophomore setter Ainise Havili (54 assists, 13 digs) each posted double-doubles.
Kansas State falls to 8-5 after beginning the season with an 8-1 record. The Wildcats were led by Brooke Sassin’s 15 kills, and a pair of 20-dig performances from libero Kersten Kober (25) and outside hitter Bryna Vogel (20). KU held K-State to a .189 hitting percentage, but K-State out-blocked KU 9.0-to-7.0.
Payne set the tone early with six kills in the first set during a 25-23 Kansas victory. KU’s prolific offense, which leads the nation in kills per set, began like clockwork as a Wait-Havili-Payne dig-assist-kill sequence off of K-State’s first serve put Kansas ahead, 1-0. But the Wildcats defense kept pace en route to a 9-6 first-set deficit for Kansas. The Jayhawks inched back and tied the set, 15-15, on an untouched ace from Madison Rigdon, forcing a K-State timeout. An offensive flurry from Dockery, who registered a kill and an ace consecutively, gave Kansas a 23-20 lead. Tayler Soucie finished the set with one of her two leave-no-doubt kills up the middle.
A rocky start to the second set for Kansas resulted in a 25-19 equalizer for K-State. The Jayhawks fell behind early with five attacking errors to aid K-State’s 15-10 early lead. After a timeout from coach Bechard, Kansas began to make a comeback with back-to-back block-assists from Payne and Soucie to pull the Jayhawks within two, 16-14. Three KU service errors down the homestretch stunted the Jayhawks’ momentum before dropping just the fourth set of the season.
Kansas came out of intermission and jumped to a 4-1 lead in the third set before K-State countered for a 4-4 tie. It would be the first of a season-high 15 ties before Kansas broke away with a 25-22 third-set win. The teams traded blows for the entire set until a K-State attack error late in the set gave KU a two-point lead, 24-22. It was the first lead of two points or more from either team since KU led 10-8 in the third. Payne registered the last two kills for Kansas to clinch the third-set win.
The two rivals laid it all out on the line in another contentious fourth set. Kansas and K-State combined for 117 swings and 64 digs in final set. KU’s 35 digs in the fourth set accounted for 42 percent of the team’s total for the night (83).
With a 12-9 deficit, the Jayhawks turned on the switch to finish off the Wildcats with combined runs of 12-2 and 6-0. KU’s momentum was sparked by three consecutive kills from Payne to tie the set, 12-12. Kansas took the lead with a block assist from Payne and Janae Hall. By the time KU reached a 15-14 lead, the score had changed sides six times in the fourth set alone.
Sophomore defensive specialist Addison Barry subbed in for the first time of the match to serve during KU’s go-ahead run, and finished with an impressive six digs in just one back-row rotation.
“That’s not an easy situation for Addison to come in,” Bechard said. “She served tough. I think we ran a good system with her serve and she was digging everything in her zone. That was big. On a night where offensively we hit .220, we had to rely on other things.”
Kansas separated with a 6-0 run to take a 21-14 lead before taking the final set, 25-21.
Kansas makes its Big 12 road debut in Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday, Sept. 26 against TCU (2 p.m. CT). Five Jayhawks hail from the state of Texas, including two from the Dallas-Fort Worth area — Ainise Havili (Fort Worth) and Claire Carpenter (Rockwall).
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