Jayhawks Home, But Not for Long as Final Four Awaits
|San Diego Regional MVP Ainise Havili.|
LAWRENCE, Kan. – A triumphant but unfinished Kansas volleyball team returned home to a cheering crowd inside Horejsi Family Athletics Center Sunday evening, still buzzing from a late night rally that saw the Jayhawks score the six final points of the fifth set to upset No. 1 overall seed USC and advance to the program’s first ever Final Four.
The Jayhawks, who improved to 30-2 by beating Loyola Marymount and the Trojans in San Diego over the weekend, arrived just after 5:15 p.m. (CT), wearing “Omaha Bound” – the site of this year’s NCAA Final Four – and received a standing ovation on their home court nearly 16 hours after making history, again.
“Did anyone stay up late last night to watch a little volleyball,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard joked about the match’s 1:02 a.m. (CT) finish. “I wish you could have all been there, it was amazing.”
Kansas set out with the goal to achieve the unprecedented, a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth for the program, but has accomplished so much more. The Jayhawks advanced to their second NCAA Sweet 16 in three years by sweeping through the first and second rounds against Furman and former rival Missouri, then dispatched Loyola Marymount in three sets in San Diego.
Facing a stiff task against the top team in the bracket, Kansas stunned USC by taking the first two sets late Saturday before the Trojans rallied to force a fifth set. Trailing 13-9 and taking shot after shot from the potential national player of the year, Kansas was unfazed and scored six straight to advance – setting off a flurry of late night social media activity that had NCAA volleyball trending throughout the region.
“The way they went about it, we could’ve maybe got you to bed sooner,” a chipper Bechard said. “As a staff and team, we saw confidence. We had the national player of the year swinging at us, but at the end it was the Jayhawks 15-13, and nothing felt better than that.”
Kansas student-athletes Tiana Dockery, the Jayhawks’ first player to play in four NCAA Tournament games, and Maggie Anderson addressed the crowd next.
“We work hard for each other at all costs,” Dockery said. “Here at Kansas, that’s something every team does. Every team supports each other, every team wants to work hard. Every team works for each other no matter way, and I think that’s absolutely amazing.”
Anderson thanked the crowd for welcoming them home and the Lincoln, Nebraska native noted there’s still some unfinished business to take care as the Jayhawks face her hometown Nebraska Cornhuskers, across the bracket from Texas and Minnesota.
“We’re getting right back to work tomorrow,” Anderson said, “because, we are not done.”
That prompted a “Let’s go Jayhawks” chant before final words from Bechard. Then the team went into the crowd to hug, shake hands and thank fans individually for their support.
Kansas will face No. 4 Nebraska in the NCAA Championship Semifinals on Thursday, Dec. 17 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha.
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