Courtesy: KU Athletics
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Senior middle blocker Tayler Soucie set the tone early during the season’s first volleyball edition of the Dillons Sunflower Showdown by recording four blocks during an early 9-0 run in the first set against in-state rival Kansas State. The sixth-ranked Jayhawks didn’t look back on the way to a 3-0 (25-15, 25-20, 25-23) victory over the Wildcats inside another sold-out Horejsi Family Athletics Center.
“That blocking display was pretty impressive. It obviously set the tone,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard said. “When you block for points like that, that can really get your team going. That was a really great way to start it. That’s a very good K-State team. We were pretty motivated to play well tonight.”
Junior outside hitter Madison Rigdon led the Jayhawks with 14 kills, while junior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne and Soucie each had 11. Freshman outside hitter Jada Burse added eight kills, as the group of four accounted for all but three of KU’s 47 kills.
The Jayhawks (15-2, 5-1 Big 12) recorded a hitting percentage above .300 for the second-straight match with a .340 clip during the nationally-televised ESPNU production. K-State (14-5, 3-3) entered the night with the second-best hitting percentage in the Big 12 (.260), but KU’s stout defense and elite passing held K-State (14-5, 3-3) to a .190 clip.
Kansas increases its home winning streak to 12 matches after defeating its in-state rival for the fourth-straight time.
Soucie’s four first-set blocks helped start the first set with a boom. K-State scored the first point of the match, followed by a side-out kill from Payne to tie it, 1-1. Soucie then proceed to be involved in four-straight block-assists to give Kansas a commanding 5-1 lead and forcing an early K-State timeout. Coming out of the timeout, Kansas continued to pour it on during a 9-0 run to take a 9-1 lead. Rigdon started strong as well, recording five kills on six swings in the first set as the Jayhawks took a 25-15 decision.
Kansas used a strong finish to take the second set, 25-20. The second stanza featured four lead changes and nine ties until the Jayhawks closed the set on a 5-1 run. Kelsie Payne had a team-high seven kills in set two.
The Jayhawks worked their way to a 16-11 lead in the third set, but the Wildcats slowly clawed back and nearly extended the match beyond three sets. Kansas native Soucie, who started the match on fire, also put the finishing touches on the sweep with a kill from a cross-court slide attack on KU’s third match point, giving KU a 25-23 third-set win.
“I think this team is getting more comfortable with who they are,” Bechard concluded. “Players have a tendency to look in the rear-view mirror at teams from the past, and this team is starting to get comfortable in their skin and knowing what they can do to be successful. We play together and we play hard.”
Kansas continues its ‘purple week’ with a road match in Fort Worth, Texas against TCU on Saturday at 5 p.m. Central.
The Jayhawks defeated K-State for the fourth-straight time, dating back to 2014. In the last nine matches, the Jayhawks are 8-1 against the Wildcats. K-State leads the all-time series, 61-43.
The Jayhawks won their 12th-straight match inside Horejsi Family Athletics Center on Wedesday. In the last 30 matches at home, Kansas is 29-1.