Courtesy: KU Athletics
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas volleyball notched its seventh-straight win in the Dillons Sunflower Showdown series by defeating in-state rival Kansas State in four sets on Wednesday night at Horejsi Family Athletics Center (14-25, 25-21, 25-15, 25-22).
The 11th-ranked Jayhawks (21-4, 10-2 Big 12) recovered from a slow start in the first set, which produced only six KU kills, to finish the match with a .317 hitting percentage in the third and fourth sets combined to clinch the victory.
Senior All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne led KU with 14 kills, but her defense came through in the clutch at the end of the match. Payne combined with middle blockers Zoe Hill and Taylor Alexander on respective plays to register back-to-back blocks which gave KU match point, 24-22, and to win match point, 25-22, in the fourth set.
In addition to five blocks, Hill turned in an efficient 11 kills on a .529 hitting percentage to help helped turn the offensive tide in favor of the Jayhawks after the slow start in the first set. Senior All-American setter Ainise Havili notched her 20th double-double of the season with 37 assists and a match-high 21 digs while captaining KU’s offense and helping fortify the Kansas passing effort, along with libero Allie Nelson’s 18 digs.
K-State falls to 9-16 and 2-10 in conference play after three-straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats were led by 15 kills by Kylee Zumach and 20 digs by Reilly Killeen.
“It was a perplexing start, but then we decided that every contact in every rally is going to be important,” Kansas head coach Ray Bechard said. “Offensively, Zoe gave us a boost towards the end of the match, which was huge. Taylor gave us a boost defensively. K-State’s record doesn’t represent how well they have been playing.”
The first set started off with the momentum on K-State’s side and remained there until a 25-14 first-set decision in favor of the Wildcats. KSU began the match by going on a 7-2 run and led Kansas for the entirety of the opening set, holding KU to a flat .000 hitting percentage.
In the second set, Kansas State continued to build momentum as KU fell behind to an early 8-3 deficit. A huge ace by KU’s Alexander made the score 8-5 and marked the beginning of a KU comeback. Payne registered a kill to bring KU within one, followed by a KSU ball handling error to tie the set at 12. The two teams alternated the lead eight times before sophomore outside hitter Ashley Smith sparked a 6-3 KU run to finish out the 25-21 second-set win for the Jayhawks.
Kansas took control of the third set halfway through. The Jayhawks went on a 5-0 run backed by the serving of Alexander. KU finished the third set on a 7-1 run, on their way to a 25-15 victory. Kansas racked up 17 kills on a.500 hitting percentage with an 80 percent side-out clip in the third set.
The Jayhawks came out strong in the fourth set and took an early 12-6 lead over the Wildcats. A slow K-State rally eventually saw the Wildcats take a 17-16 lead. Kansas broke an 18-18 tie following a pair of K-State attacking errors, giving KU a two-point scoring margin that would not be overcome.
Between Payne’s pair of match-clinching blocks which gave KU a 25-22 fourth-set victory, K-State senior Bryna Vogel hushed the sold-out crowd at Horejsi Family Athletics Center for minutes after going down with a gut-wrenching injury.
“Bryna has been an absolute stud for K-State the last four years,” Bechard said of Vogel, a 2016 All-Big 12 Second Team honoree. “She has given all she has to that program. I have been so proud of her effort the last four years. We hope she is OK.”
Kansas played its second match of the season without senior All-American outside hitter Madison Rigdon, whose status for return from injury is day-to-day. But Coach Bechard sees the silver lining that may benefit his team in the long run.
“This will make us a better team,” Bechard said of his squad taking on different roles during the absence of the six-rotation play of Rigdon. “Eventually, Rigdon will be back. When she does return, you can’t trade this experience our team is getting because you never know when down the stretch when it is going to be really valuable.”
Kansas plays its eighth top-25 matchup of the season against No. 23 Baylor on Saturday (Noon, ESPN3).