Balanced attack leads KU volleyball past Kansas State in Sunflower Showdown
photo by: Kyle Babson
The Kansas volleyball team entered Saturday’s Sunflower Showdown with the lowest hitting percentage in the Big 12. However, in one of the biggest matches of the season, the offense delivered in a big way to push Kansas past Kansas State in front of a sellout crowd at Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena.
The Jayhawks had a .314 hitting percentage in the match on their way to a 25-18, 23-25, 25-23, 26-24 win over their in-state rival. Kansas had a .172 attack percentage prior to the match.
“We had nine attack errors in the first three sets, which is outstanding,” Kansas coach Ray Bechard said. “Our passing was good, and our setting put our attackers in good situations, and then the attackers came through and did good work.
“We were hard to defend because we were very balanced.”
Bechard credited that balance to junior setter Sara Nielsen, who had 44 assists and helped five players rack up at least nine kills.
“Just the distribution, the decisions she made,” Bechard said of Nielsen, “I thought she was as good as she’s been for quite some time.”
Kansas (8-16, 4-9 Big 12) never trailed in an opening set where it had a .517 attack percentage and opened up a 12-6 lead on a kill from Rachel Langs. The sophomore led the Jayhawks with 13 kills in the match on 18 attempts.
“That kill efficiency is pretty amazing,” Bechard said of Langs. “She didn’t feel like she really competed like she wanted at Baylor and went to work Thursday and Friday and said hey, I got to be better. We can make this work.”
Langs put the cherry on top of a strong first by the Jayhawks with a kill set up by Nielsen to clinch the opener.
However, the Wildcats (8-17, 3-10 Big 12) made adjustments on defense to slow down the Jayhawks and eke out a 25-23 win in set two.
Much like in set one, the Jayhawks used a strong start to the third set to snatch momentum, as Ashley Smith recorded one of her 10 kills to give Kansas an 8-4 lead. Cam Ennis (12 kills) and Gracie Van Driel (nine kills) steadied the offense.
But the Wildcats hung around all set before a kill from Morgan Christon gave the Jayhawks a two set to one lead.
Kansas State didn’t make things easy in the fourth as neither team led by more than 4 points, but the Jayhawks worked their way to a 24-22 lead and a pair of match points.
Kansas State junior Brynn Carlson saved one match point with one of her team-high 12 kills, and a Kansas attack error tied the score at 24.
But Christon, just a freshman, delivered two huge swings to lift the Jayhawks to a win in front of a capacity crowd.
“That’s a freshman taking a big-time swing,” Bechard said of Christon. “That’s why we have such high hopes for her.
“We were really focused at the end of the third and fourth set and made enough good plays to make it happen.”
KU travels to Texas at 7 p.m. Saturday.