FINAL FOUR BOUND: No. 9 Kansas Upends No. 1 USC, 3-2
SAN DIEGO – To be No. 1, you have to beat No. 1.
The No. 9-ranked University of Kansas volleyball team did just that – defeating No. 1 seed USC in five sets (3-2; 25-18, 25-21, 22-25, 19-25, 15-13) on Saturday night to advance the program’s first NCAA Championship Semifinal appearance and extend a season that continues to elevate to unprecedented heights.
The Jayhawks (30-2) finished the match on a 6-0 run to recover from a 13-9 deficit in the fifth set and compete the upset of the top-ranked Trojans (33-3).
“I’ve never been around a team that kept fighting as much as we did in the fifth set,” KU head coach Ray Bechard said. “I’m proud to say I’m a part of this Jayhawk Volleyball program after witnessing what I just saw.”
Junior libero Cassie Wait served the final run for the Jayhawks in the fifth set and finished with a match-high 28 digs. Wait served an ace to tie the set for the first time, 13-13. Kansas took a 14-13 lead on sophomore right-side hitter Kelsie Payne’s 18th kill of the night.
KU’s match point was the longest rally of the match, with the ball crossing the net 14 times before the final result – a kill from sophomore outside hitter Madison Rigdon that landed on the far corner to send the Jayhawks diving to the floor to celebrate the program’s first-ever “Final Four” appearance.
“We pride ourselves on competitive team chemistry,” Wait said. “There were a lot of times where we were down four or five points this season, and if we can controlled one ball at a time and believed in each other then it worked out. Tonight we all looked at each other in the eyes and said ‘this is going to happen, it just needs to go one ball at a time.’ It’s pretty awesome that it did.”
Sophomore setter Ainise Havili took home San Diego Region MVP honors after posting 48 assists and 22 digs to will Kansas to victory on Saturday night. Payne and Wait joined Havili on the All-Region Team.
USC’s Samantha Bricio finished with a commanding 25 kills and 12 digs but the Jayhawks managed to hold her aggressive serve at bay. The espnW Player of the Year leads the nation in aces per set (0.7), but was limited to just one ace in five sets against Kansas on Saturday.
USC finishes the season with a 17-win improvement from last season’s squad that finished .500 (16-16). The Trojans spent six weeks at No. 1 in the AVCA Coaches Poll and won the Pac-12 title.
Kansas will face No. 4 Nebraska in the NCAA Championship Semifinals on Thursday, Dec. 17 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha.
San Diego Regional All-Tournament Team
MVP – Ainise Havili (Kansas)
Kelsie Payne (Kansas)
Cassie Wait (Kansas)
Samantha Bricio (USC)
Alicia Ogans (USC)
Baylie Johnson (USC)
KANSAS INTHE NCAAs:Kansas advances to its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Championship Semifinals (Final Four). Saturday marked KU’s first appearance in the Regional Finals (Elite Eight). Kansas improves to 9-6 in its seventh overall appearance in the NCAA Championship.
30 WINS: Kansas reached 30 wins for the first time in the modern scheduling format with Saturday’s win. KU reached 30 wins in the first four seasons of the program, when there were more than 50 matches played per season during that era – 1975 (30-19-2), 1976 (35-15), 1977 (35-23-4), and 1978 (31-24-2). Kansas holds a program-record .938 winning percentage (30-2) and became the fastest team to reach 20 wins earlier this season.
KU-USC SERIES: Kansas and USC met for the first time on Saturday night.
TOP-5 WIN: With a win over No. 2 USC (AVCA), Kansas notches its first-ever win over a top-5 team.
SECOND FIVE-SETTER: Saturday marked KU’s second five-set match of the season. The previous was a narrow loss to No. 3 Texas on Nov. 11 in Lawrence.
HITTING PERCENTAGE: USC held an edge in hitting percentage, .192 to .182. It is just the third time this season that Kansas has recorded a lower hitting percentage than its opponent (1-2 record in those matches).
SATURDAY NIGHT’S ALRIGHT:Kansas is 14-0 on Saturdays this season.
BIG DEFENSE:Kansas is holding opponents to a .116 hitting percentage during four NCAA Championship matches.
TIDBITS: Kansas is… 12-2 against 2015 NCAA tournament teams … 23-0 when taking a two-set lead in a match … 10-1 in the fourth set (first fourth-set loss on Saturday).
Senior OH Tiana Dockery
5 kills, 14 digs
Reached double-figure digs for the ninth time this season, including three consecutive matches.
Improves to 104-29 during her four-year career at Kansas, including a 7-3 mark in the NCAA Championship.
Sophomore RS Kelsie Payne
18 kills, .417 hitting percentage, 4 blocks
Became KU’s single-season kills record holder (474), passing Allison Mayfield (2011; 462).
Led Kansas in kills for the 24th time this season.
Sophomore OH Madison Rigdon
10 kills, 5 digs
Recorded a kill on match point to clinch the win for KU.
17th match this season with double-figure kills.
Junior MB Tayler Soucie
10 kills, 0 attacking errors, .417 hitting percentage.
First double-figure blocks output by a Jayhawk this season.
Most blocks by a Jayhawk since she recorded a career-high 13 against Oklahoma on Nov. 29, 2014.
Posted seven blocks in the second set alone.
Led Kansas is blocks for the 22nd time this season.
Junior L Cassie Wait
28 digs, 2 aces
Moved into third on KU’s career digs list (1,354), passing Jill Dorsey (2001-04; 1,338).
11th 20-dig performance this season, including the sixth in the last 10 matches.
Has led KU in digs 29 time this season.
Recorded multiple aces for the fourth time this season.
Senior DS Anna Church
Season-high 3 aces, 0 service errors, 9 digs
Junior MB Janae Hall
10 kills, 5 blocks
Led Kansas in blocks for the 10th time this season.
Matched her season-high 10 kills for the second time.
Reached five or more blocks for the fifth time this season.
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