Sunflower Sweep: Kansas Sails Past No. 23 Kansas State
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Sets one and two made for great volleyball as Kansas had to battle its way back from deficits to take a two-set lead against No. 23 Kansas State. The final frame, however, saw the Jayhawks take the lead and run with it on their way to the sweep inside Ahearn Fieldhouse in the final Sunflower Showdown of the 2014 season, 25-22, 25-22, 25-21.
When Kansas (19-7, 7-5) and Kansas State (20-6, 7-5) met in Lawrence on Oct. 1, it marked the first time in their last five meetings that neither team was ranked. It also marked just the second conference match for half of the Jayhawks as seven members of the roster are freshmen. On Wednesday night, Kansas certainly looked all grown up as the Jayhawks collected their third-straight win in Manhattan – and the second consecutive-sweep.
“Boy, that was a good 90 minutes,” head coach Ray Bechard said. “With the exception of just a couple rough spots in each of the first two sets, we played really, really well. Ainise (Havili) made great decisions and we passed extremely well. The kids had fun and that was good to see. Even when we fell behind in those first two sets, they didn’t waiver, they trusted each other and finished strong.”
Senior outside hitter Sara McClinton was unreal
against the Wildcats, crushing 18 kills without
a single error.With all the maturing going on around them, the Kansas seniors stayed the course. Sara McClinton was unstoppable. The Omaha native tied her season-high with 18 kills and did not commit a single error. She also tied a season-high with four digs and made one of her rare serve attempts.
“I was shocked,” McClinton laughed about her well-executed jump serve. “The thing I’m actually the most proud of is that I got my serve over. I could care less about the 18 kills, I was just happy to get the end-game serve over, in and aggressive.”
Fellow senior Chelsea Albers joined her with an all-around solid night that included eight kills, four assists and a team-high 13 digs. Also turning a great performance, junior outside hitter Tiana Dockery logged her second-straight double-double with 12 kills and 10 digs. For the match, Kansas committed only 10 attack errors and doubled the Wildcats’ blocking total (10.0/5.0), who entered the evening as the second-best blocking team in the league.
Doing what she does, freshman setter Ainise Havili led her attackers to a .299 hitting efficiency as she tallied 38 assists, adding eight digs and four blocks to her performance. Sophomore middle blockers Tayler Soucie and Janae Hall teamed up for 10 total blocks between the duo.
The Sunflower Showdown always carries emotional implications, but the midweek meeting was also a fight for footing in the Big 12 Conference standings. With the win, Kansas moved into a tie for third with its in-state rival.
There was no shortage of excitement as Kansas fell behind early in both sets one and two before playing the catch-up game in a big way. KU faced a 21-19 deficit in the waning moments of set one before clamping down with a 6-1 run to win. The following frame saw the Jayhawks fight their way back to an 18-18 tie before taking over in that one, as well.
Out of intermission, though, Kansas was done with the catch-up game. The Jayhawks caused KSU to burn both timeouts by the 10-point mark and used an incredible 16 combined kills from McClinton and Dockery to put the match away. Before last season, Kansas had collected just two sweeps in Manhattan in the series that extended to 103 meetings on Wednesday. Now, the Jayhawks have two sweeps in the last two trips to K-State.
The Wildcats converted 10 kills on their first 13 swings to build a sizable 14-8 advantage in set one. That is, until the Jayhawks charged back. Four different players swatted down Wildcat attacks to fuel the 6-1 run that brought KU within a single point midway through the set, 15-14. Big leads were over from that point forward as Kansas began converting on its swings, as well. McClinton, Albers and Soucie went to work on turning the momentum and did exactly that. The trio finished the frame with 11 kills and no errors, while Havili snuck a hook shot over the net to erase a late 21-19 deficit and finish the set on a 6-1 run.
Again the Wildcats tried to set the early tone, jumping out to a 6-2 lead in set two. And, again, the Jayhawks railed against it. Back-to-back aces from Soucie pulled KU right back and the back-and-forth battle started all over again, making for an exciting show. Though Kansas played behind for much of it, the visitors made their move at the right time. After tying the score at 18-18, the Jayhawks forced a KSU timeout only to come out of the pause and fire off three-straight points.
For two sets in a row, the Jayhawks didn’t climb into the driver’s seat until the final points of the set, but when they did they were there to stay. Albers slammed with door with consecutive kills to close set with the same score, 25-22.
Fighting to keep the match alive, Kansas State took the first two points of set three. This time, however, Kansas skipped the falling behind early part. Dockery and McClinton flat-out went off. After Dockery cranked out four kills in a row, McClinton took her turn blasting four-straight. By the time Havili landed the ace to cap the KU lead at 10-6, Kansas State had used both of its timeouts. When the Wildcats pulled within one, KU hit the gas even harder, churning out four points in a row off the arm of McClinton and another big block.
In fact, the 2-0 lead was the only lead the Wildcats could muster in the final set. While they did claw their way back to 21-20 deficit, Kansas took four of the last five points to seal the win.
- Head coach Ray Bechard recorded career win No. 1,008 on Wednesday. His 716 wins at Barton County Community earned him an induction into the NJCAA Hall of Fame in 1998 – his first season at Kansas. Since then, his 292 wins at Kansas are the second-most among active Big 12 coaches.
- KU swept Kansas State in Manhattan for just the fourth time in series history (Nov. 12, 2014; Oct. 2, 2013; Oct. 17, 2009; Sept. 11, 1981). The Wildcats lead the all-time series, 62-41, but the Jayhawks have won five of the last six meetings between the two.
- The Jayhawks chalked up their 10th sweep of the year Wednesday against Kansas State. Reversely, KU has been swept just twice in its last 70 matches (Washington 12/13/13, Penn State 9/13/14).
- With her season-high-tying 18 kills at Kansas State, senior outside hitter Sara McClinton is inching toward sixth place on KU’s all-time career kills list. McClinton now has 1,208 for her career, making her way closer to Amanda Reves’ 1,264 kills (1996-99). McClinton is one of two players in the Big 12 with 1,000 career kills (Haley Eckerman, Texas).
- McClinton’s .500 attack percentage (18K-0E-36TA) was a season high.
- The victory marked KU’s first top-20 RPI win of the season and its second win of the year against a nationally-ranked team.
- For the first time this season, sophomore libero Cassie Wait did not register double-digit digs.
Kansas will take its Saturday bye of the conference season on Nov. 15 and hit the court at home on Wednesday, Nov. 19 against Iowa State. First serve from the Horejsi Family Athletics Center is set for 6:30 p.m. The match will be televised on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel.