No. 23 Kansas Loses Lead at Oklahoma, Falls in Five
NORMAN, Okla. – What started as a Kansas highlight reel ended much differently when Oklahoma came back from an 0-2 deficit to down the 23rd-ranked Jayhawks in five sets. After handily claiming sets one and two, KU opened the Big 12 Conference season Saturday night inside McCasland Fieldhouse with a loss, 25-19, 25-20, 19-25, 23-25, 9-15.
Kansas (12-3, 0-1) kicked off the Big 12 slate on the road for the sixth time in the last seven seasons. The last trip the Jayhawks made in the 2013 regular season was to Oklahoma (10-4, 1-0) before turning around and starting the conference schedule there on Saturday night. The Sooners won the 2013 finale in four sets, giving KU plenty of reason to retaliate in the return trip. KU appeared to do exactly that, sprinting out to a two-set lead.
Oklahoma saw it differently, hitting .375 and .481 in sets three and four to force a decisive fifth frame. Completely robbing the Jayhawks of their momentum, the Sooners finished it off with a suffocating .545 attack percentage in set five to claim the win.
“When you give a team a little bit of confidence and momentum after having them down, that’s exactly what happens,” head coach Ray Bechard said. “It’s a difficult lesson to learn, obviously, but we’ve got no other option but to think of ‘How can we come up with a better response?'”
Reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week, freshman Madison Rigdon, rolled out to a hot start. Her pair of aces in the opening period helped KU chalk up an impressive 5-0 ace advantage in set one, but the Jayhawks wouldn’t ace another serve for the night and instead committed a season-high 19 service errors. Rigdon did finish with 12 kills as did freshman middle blocker Kelsie Payne, who also tallied a career-best .647 attack percentage.
Senior Chelsea Albers was a force all night in her career-best 24-kill performance. She came up one dig short of a double-double and tied a season-high with her five blocks. Plus, she stole the show in set two. With her team trailing 18-15, the All-Big 12 senior went off. In the last 10 points of the set, she tallied two blocks and five kills – including the last three of the set – to power KU to a 10-2 run to close the set and take a 2-0 lead. By the end of the frame, the returning All-American had a remarkable 10 kills.
Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, their hot streak ended there. Oklahoma’s junior middle blocker Kierra Holst was held to six kills through the first two sets before erupting for her own career-best 23 kills. Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Madison Ward was right behind her with a career-high tying 18 kills. For only the second time this season, a Kansas opponent hit better than .200 (.314).
Freshman setter Ainise Havili registered 50-plus assists for the third time this year and fellow freshman Kelsie Payne led the team with six blocks.
Four freshmen in the starting lineup didn’t appear to cause the Jayhawks to skip a beat as Payne and Rigdon chalked up early kills and an ace to put KU up early, 8-6. Rigdon took another turn, collecting back-to-back aces right out of the pause and Kansas pulled away in a hurry. Sophomore setter Maggie Anderson connected on the Jayhawks’ fifth serving ace to bring her squad to set point. While Oklahoma wouldn’t let the visitors run away with it, putting together a 5-0 run, a kill by freshman middle blocker Kayla Cheadle closed out set one, 25-19.
Oklahoma worked with a slim two-point lead through the early minutes of set number two – and KU’s veterans took their turn running the table. Albers and McClinton came up with consecutive kills to pull in front, 9-8. After a lopsided set one, the Sooners didn’t allow the same scoring cushion the next time around. At the media timeout, OU led 15-13 and held the advantage until a Payne-Albers block capped a 4-0 Jayhawk run. Heading into the stretch run, KU took the 19-18 lead. Once trailing 18-15, Albers and Kansas ignited for the 10-2 run to take a convincing 2-0 lead to the lockerroom, 25-20.
Unwilling to give up a sweep on their home floor, the Sooners took a 17-12 lead out of the media timeout in set three, their largest lead of the night to that point. Adding to it, OU easily won the race to the 20-point mark, 20-14. Albers crushed a pair of kills to bring KU back within four, but OU had the motivation it needed to claim set three, 25-19.
The comeback now in place, the Sooners worked to reproduce the same momentum in set four. Albers notched her 20th kill to bring her team within a point and tied her career-high as the Jayhawks climbed in front, 11-10. Continuous kills from Holst fueled the Sooners fire and a 6-0 run turned the tide in their favor, 19-16. Service and ball-handling errors got KU back in it, tying it up at 22-22, but Holst swung for her eighth kill of the set to force the fifth and final frame, 25-23.
Albers broke her career-high with her first kill in the fifth set, tying the score at 3-3. The momentum lived on the other side of the net, however, as OU rattled off four-straight points to take a 7-3 lead in the shortened final period. In no time, the Sooners were at match point. Payne was right in the middle of fighting it off three times, but Holst closed the night with one final kill, 15-9.
- Kansas closed the 2013 Big 12 season against Oklahoma and opened it against the Sooners in 2014, the first such occurrence since closing/opening the Big 12 schedule against Kansas State in 2006-07.
- Senior outside hitter Sara McClinton needs 48 kills to pass Jana Correa (1,131; 2003-06) for 10th on the all-time Kansas career list.
- KU has played just two five-set matches this season. Both times, the Jayhawks were up 0-2. Both times resulted in losses. The other came against Lipscomb on opening day (8/29).
- This is the first time KU has opened the Big 12 season with a loss since 2011. Kansas started 2012 5-0 in conference play and went 4-0 to start in 2013.
No. 23 Kansas heads home for a big week. First up, the Jayhawks will face in-state rival Kansas State on Wednesday, Oct. 1 at 6:30 p.m., before hosting No. 2 Texas on Sunday, Oct. 5 at 1 p.m.
KUAthletics.com: The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.