KU volleyball sweeps pair of matches in Omaha; home opener awaits Thursday

photo by: Angilo Allen/Kansas Athletics

Kansas middle blocker Toyosi Onabanjo is jubilant during the match against Omaha on Aug. 26, 2023.

The Kansas volleyball team began its quest for a third-straight NCAA Tournament bid in style, earning a pair of 3-0 victories over Pepperdine and host Omaha at a tournament this past weekend.

KU, which entered its season-opening matches receiving votes but just one spot out of the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, immediately staked its claim for inclusion in the next installment by sweeping Pepperdine, which was also receiving votes, Friday afternoon.

Junior outside hitter Ayah Elnady picked up where she left off in 2022 and led all players with 18 kills, which she picked up on a .405 hitting percentage, to help KU escape tight first and third sets by two-point margins (27-25 and 25-23), including the last three kills of the third game. Sandwiched between those frames was a 25-15 set that the Jayhawks were able to run away with quickly and cap off with the first kill of the season for sophomore Rhian Swanson.

Setter Camryn Turner, KU’s preseason all-conference selection, tallied a double-double with 40 assists and 17 digs. Transfers Reagan Cooper and Toyosi Onabanjo added 10 and nine kills, respectively.

“We had great offensive balance, our defense behind the block was exceptional, and we closed out close games,” KU coach Ray Bechard said in a press release. “We had a close game in both the first set and the third set, and we showed a lot of competitive confidence against a good team.”

The result was KU’s first-ever win over Pepperdine, which it had played just once previously in a four-set defeat in 2003.

Omaha was a much more familiar foe for the Jayhawks, who beat the Mavericks 3-1 at the Jayhawk Classic in Lawrence last season. The Mavericks also went down more straightforwardly, at least on paper, as KU claimed a 25-16, 25-21, 25-13 win on the road.

The final scores of each set belied some back-and-forth play. For example, the Jayhawks needed to rally after conceding the first four points in the first set and only took the lead at 11-10.

This time, the Jayhawks got their biggest offensive contribution from Cooper, a graduate transfer who began her career at Washington State and has past Big 12 Conference experience at Texas Tech, who put up 14 kills on a .522 hitting percentage. Cooper tallied four kills and a block in rapid succession to help KU build up its margin in the second set.

Freshman libero Raegan Burns started both matches and led the Jayhawks with 15 digs against Omaha.

KU will head home with a 2-0 record, and a fresh No. 23 ranking in the latest AVCA poll Monday, to take on Purdue Thursday and Marquette Saturday.

photo by: Angilo Allen/Kansas Athletics

The Kansas volleyball team huddles at Omaha on Aug. 26, 2023.


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