If Kansas University’s volleyball team felt as if it gave away Wednesday’s first set against archrival and 14th-ranked Kansas State, the Jayhawks sure made up for it in the next three.
After responding to the disappointment of letting two set points escape them in the opener, the 21st-ranked Jayhawks dominated Set 2, ground out Set 3 and closed out a convincing victory against the Wildcats, 26-28, 25-15, 28-26 and 25-20, at Horejsi Center.
“The way we lost the first set could’ve created a really down mood,” KU coach Ray Bechard said. “But for us to come right back and really get after ’em in the second set, I think, was critical.”
Critical was a good word to describe the play of junior middle blocker Caroline Jarmoc, who recorded her first double-double of the season (11 kills and 12 blocks) and once again joined the 200-kill, 100-block club. Jarmoc has now achieved the feat that only five other Jayhawks have in three straight seasons. No one ever has done it four years in a row.
She credited the excitement in the gym and the intensity of the rivalry for her big night.
“Once you get in it, you get in it,” said Jarmoc, a native Canadian who admitted she knew nothing about the Sunflower Showdown when she first got to town. “I just wanted to crush them tonight.”
Several others played key roles in the Jayhawks’ first victory over the Wildcats (17-3 overall, 4-3 Big 12) since 2009.
Sophomores Sara McClinton (19 kills in 33 tries) and Chelsea Albers (7 kills in 13 tries) helped pace KU’s offense, four different Jayhawks finished with three or more blocks, and, as a team, the Jayhawks (18-3, 6-1) dominated at the net, finishing with 18 blocks to K-State’s five and a .271 attack percentage.
“We are a very physical team,” Albers said. “We’re gonna block balls and touch balls that a lot of other people would just give up on.”
Never was that more evident than in crunch time Wednesday. The Jayhawks were at their best during the waning moments of the final three sets. Senior Tayler Tolefree ended a tight third set with a huge stuff block, and Catherine Carmichael came up with a huge rejection in the fourth set to give KU breathing room at 21-19. From there, McClinton took over, recording kills on three of KU’s final four points to close out the match.
“I was like, ‘I want the ball,’” the 6-foot-2 outside hitter from Omaha, Neb., said. “I know my teammates need for me to have that mentality.”
After KU let a 15-10, fourth-set lead slip to one at 17-16, Bechard called timeout to calm his players down and emphasize the importance of finishing.
“In a fifth set, many times the volleyball gods can take over with a bounce here or a call there,” Bechard said. “Even though we’ve had some success with ’em, we prefer not to (go five) if we can get it over in four.”
Although Wednesday’s victory merely went down as the latest bright moment in a season full of highlights, Bechard talked in detail after the match about all that it represented.
“We talked about it a little bit,” Bechard said. “There’s this ranking, there’s RPI (KU entered the night 13th, while K-State was ninth), there’s all this stuff, and the girls just looked back at us and said, ‘That’s what we feel like we should be doing.’ I think they get a sense that they believe and now we’ve beaten some good teams.”
He continued: “I think (tonight was) a big match because they’re a really good team. In the standings it just gives you one more win, but, from a different perspective, regionally, I think it means a little bit more.”