Senior Day Magic Drives Five-Set Comeback

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – Trailing 8-5 in the middle of the ominous fifth set, Kansas senior Sara McClinton crushed three-straight kills to begin the storybook ending to the Jayhawks’ Senior Day that saw KU come back to defeat Oklahoma Saturday inside the Horejsi Family Athletics Center, 17-25, 25-18, 25-20, 20-25, 15-11.
When Oklahoma (20-10, 10-6) won the fourth frame, it meant Kansas (22-8, 10-6) would have to face a dreaded fifth set as the Jayhawks entered Saturday 0-5 in five-set matches. As Oklahoma raced out to an 8-5 lead before the teams switched sides, KU’s fifth-set epidemic loomed. McClinton and fellow senior Chelsea Albers said no.
“It was cool. Chelsea and Sara both said during the timeouts ‘Hey, we’re winning this.’ So I told them ok, we’ve got to make the plays to do it – and they did,” head coach Ray Bechard said. “You’ve got to remember that this team was 0-3 in the league and dead last at one time. Now they are going to finish tied for second. That’s a testament to Sara and Chelsea not giving up on conference play and demanding the same out of all those around them.”
Together, the class of 2014 was responsible for six of the points that Kansas needed to finish the fifth set on a 10-3 run. Not only does that leave the duo with the most wins (88-36) of any senior class in Bechard’s 17 years at the helm, it also landed Kansas in a tie for a second-place finish in the Big 12 Conference. Although the Jayhawks were voted to finish second in the Big 12 Preseason Poll in August, they welcomed seven newcomers to the team. A young squad made for a new learning process, but the second-place finish remained the same. Before 2013, KU had never finished second in the Big 12. After Saturday, Kansas has now pulled it off two years in a row.
A year ago, Kansas ended the regular season with a loss at Oklahoma, fittingly, on the Sooners’ Senior Day. McClinton and Albers were epic in returning the favor. McClinton led the way with 18 kills and a pair of service aces, while Albers was instrumental with her 13 kills, nine digs and seven blocks that helped KU break its home record for blocks in a match (rally-scoring era). Albers’ rejections combined with a career-high 13 blocks from sophomore Tayler Soucie and nine more by junior Tiana Dockery powered Kansas to 20.5 – 12.0 blocking advantage.
Dockery’s nine blocks tied a career-high and she was equally dominant on offense, chalking up 15 kills and a team-high .289 attack efficiency. Doing the dishing, freshman setter Ainise Havili setup 53 assists for the eighth 50+ mark of her rookie season. She also added nine digs and four blocks. KU middles, Soucie and freshman Kelsie Payne, rattled off seven kills apiece, but led the Jayhawk force field at the net. Not only did KU’s 20.5 team blocks set a Horejsi Family Athletics Center record, but Soucie’s 13 blocks also set a new home record. Meanwhile, Payne tacked on another six stuffs and sophomore libero Cassie Wait posted 22 digs.
Across the net, junior outside hitter Kierra Holst joined McClinton as one of the four active Big 12 players with 1,000+ kills. She tied McClinton for the match-high with 18 kills. Freshman middle blocker Marion Hazelwood was potent with 17 kills on a match-high .379 attack percentage.
In the opening set, Kansas never got off the ground as Oklahoma an 8-1 lead in no time. Back-to-back kills from Holst and Hazelwood shoved the Sooner lead into double-digits, 16-6. Kills from McClinton and Dockery shaved the deficit to seven, but a .533 OU attack percentage for the set saw the Sooners cruise to a 25-17 win.
Oklahoma took the initial point of the second set, as well, but Kansas immediately went to work on evening the score. A major momentum swing came at the hands of a diving Wait who flew toward the back wall to save a ball to Havili before freshman defensive specialist Addison Barry sent it over – saving what was sure to be a Sooner point. Instead, Dockery, Soucie and McClinton each hammered out kills to put the Jayhawks in front, 11-7, and force an Oklahoma timeout. The Sooners came out to cut it to 12-9 before Kansas took off with a pair of Soucie blocks and a McClinton kill for a 4-0 run. Albers connected on two-straight swings to put the Jayhawks out of reach. They went to intermission tied at a set apiece after the 25-18 KU victory.
KU fell behind again out of the break, 3-0. This time, Payne came through with back-to-back kills to tie the score at 8-8. Dockery and Albers tagged kills, while Soucie swatted one of her five blocks in the set to hand the Jayhawks a 13-10 advantage that they wouldn’t surrender. When the Sooners threatened to tie it, Albers and McClinton helped spark a 6-2 run that ended with Soucie smashing an over pass to win 25-20.
The fourth set played out much like the first. Oklahoma came to Lawrence in the hunt to take second place outright and was not about to let Kansas have it. The Sooners smothered KU to a -.025 attack percentage to win 25-20 and set up set number five.
Kansas certainly looked weary of fifth sets in the opening moments. Although the teams exchanged points to arrive at a 5-5 tie, Oklahoma scored three-straight and looked to be taking over with an 8-5 lead in the shortened frame.
Enter the seniors. McClinton fired off three-consecutive kills to push KU to a 9-9 tie. Seizing control, Payne swung for a kill and then joined Albers for a crucial block that gave KU the lead. Albers had all the opportunity she needed, crushing back-to-back kills to bring her team to match point. One final attack error from the Sooners sent the Jayhawks screaming with a 15-11 win.

  • Head coach Ray Bechard recorded career win No. 1,011 on Saturday. 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 295 wins at Kansas are the second-most among active Big 12 coaches.
  • With her 18 kills against Oklahoma, senior outside hitter Sara McClinton is moving toward sixth place on KU’s all-time career kills list. McClinton now has 1,257 for her career, making her way closer to Amanda Reves’ 1,264 kills (1996-99). McClinton trails on Haley Eckerman of Texas for the lead among career kills for active Big 12 players.
  • Sophomore libero Cassie Wait tallied 22 digs, pushing her season total to 534, just 15 behind Catalina Suarez for the third on KU’s single-season digs record list.
  • Freshman setter Ainise Havili collected 53 assists against Oklahoma, giving her 1,278 assists for the year, adding to her KU freshman assists record. That marked the eighth 50+ assist match of the year for her.
  • Through her first three seasons, senior outside hitter Sara McClinton had served just five times. She now has six aces in the last four matches after collecting two against Oklahoma.
  • KU’s previous HFAC record for blocks in a home match during the rally-scoring era was 20.0 vs. Missouri (11/23/02). The all-time blocks record for a home match is 23.0 (vs. Texas, 10/7/00). Rally scoring began before the 2001 season.
  • Sophomore middle blocker Tayler Soucie’s 13 blocks (1 solo/12 assists) set a new all-time record for blocks in a home match. Her 12 block assists also tied her own record for the most block assists in any match (12 vs. Creighton, 9/10/13).  

Kansas will await its NCAA Tournament fate on Sunday, Nov. 30 when the Selection Show airs on ESPNU at 7:30 p.m. CT.  The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.