KU volleyball shows dominance in rivalry win over Kansas State

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World

Kansas graduate Mykayla Myers is jubilant against Kansas State on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023.

After a five-set nailbiter ended with a Kansas win on Friday night, the second and final installment of this year’s Sunflower Showdown began in front of a packed house at Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena on Saturday afternoon, and concluded in another victory for the Jayhawks, this time in a sweep (25-19, 26-24, 25-23).

“After you play two and a half hours you wonder how the next afternoon is going to go, but I thought we played extremely well,” head coach Ray Bechard said.

The first set began just as closely matched as the first match of the series against Kansas State. After tying the score at 7-7 on her second kill of the game, Caroline Bien, whose defensive performance the night before kept the Jayhawks in the game, rattled off two aces in four points to give them an early 11-7 lead. The Wildcats called their first timeout of the game, but it wouldn’t slow the Jayhawks down, as a full-team effort lifted the score to 17-10. Bien continued to impress in the back and front row, leading Kansas in kills (two) and blocks (three) more than halfway through set one.

“This is one of the best weeks of practice we probably had all season, so everyone felt really prepared,” Bien said, elaborating on the circumstances that allowed her to find such success in the match.

Although K-State attempted to stage a comeback, the Jayhawks handled game one, winning 25-19 on Ayah Elnady’s fifth kill of the set. Bien led Kansas on the night in digs with four and aces with two.

Saturday was Bien’s best offensive performance of the season, as her role this year became more concentrated on the back row rather than her position last year as a full-time outside hitter.

“Getting to play the entire game rather than kind of playing in and out… it’s a lot different when you know you’re going in, you’re going to play the whole game, and you kind of just have to lock in,” Bien said. “And that was what made me the most comfortable.”

Beginning closely once again, Kansas lost a bit of its footing at the beginning of the second set, allowing the Wildcats to go on a three-point run to lead 6-4. A long rally allowed the Jayhawks to battle back, as London Davis’ fifth kill got Kansas within one. But the Jayhawks continued to struggle a bit, as they called their first timeout of the match when trailing 13-9 in the second set. A big kill by Mykayla Myers out of the timeout regained a bit of momentum for Kansas, and after a service ace by Raegan Burns, the Jayhawks only trailed 14-13.

It was at this point that Bechard decided it was time to change things up on the court in an attempt to jumpstart some sort of comeback.

“It just gave them a little different look,” Bechard said. “We went from a two-hitter to a three-hitter, we brought Rhian (Swanson) in and had Katie Dalton setting. And it gave us a couple of side-outs, which was crucial in that set.”

A few challenges and interchanged timeouts led to Kansas trailing 20-17 with not much time left to salvage a second-set win.

“Playing the game and not the score is really important. You’re never down and out, especially at this high of a level,” Bien said. “So when we go in timeouts and it’s endgame like that, and it’s close … focusing on more of the tangibles rather than the intangibles is going to help you in that case.”

The Jayhawks got back in the game after this break, as Kansas State called its own timeout at 20-19, and the two teams exchanged points off and on until the Wildcats got to their first set point of the game. After this set point, Kansas State missed a serve, and an ace by Dalton gave the Jayhawks a second wind as they trailed 24-23 in the final moments of the second set. After things looked bleak for the Jayhawks for nearly the entirety of set two, crucial errors by the Wildcats allowed Kansas to get back into the game.

“We’ve created some good balance, they like to play hard for each other, and we have different players who step up in different moments,” Bechard said, noting the durability of his team.

The Jayhawks hadn’t held a lead in the set since the score was 4-3, but they fought back to make it 25-24 and won set two in dramatic fashion on an attack error by Kansas State.

“It’s just such a big rivalry and it feels great. But to sweep them today, especially after being down there at the end in the second set, that really was just so special,” Bien added. “It shows such great resiliency. Our two core values are grit and grace, so I just feel like (coach Bechard) was so proud of us for that.”

Following the comeback victory in set two, the Jayhawks looked to close out a quick sweep in the third set of the day. After a big block by Toyosi Onabanjo and Camryn Turner, Kansas led 14-10, and one point later Kansas State called its first timeout of the set after trailing by five. After trading off points and maintaining its late-set lead, Kansas forced the Wildcats to call another timeout at 19-15. The Wildcats continued to fight back as KU had in set two, and the Jayhawks had to call their own timeout in an attempt to regroup as the score stood at 21-19 late in the third. The Wildcats wouldn’t make it easy, as they fought back to come within one point late in the game. Elnady served into the net on Kansas’ first match point, but the Jayhawks were able to win on the next point of the game, on a kill by Bien.

“Before the play even happened, I was like I’m going to tip on this one, I know I have a big block in front of me,” she said. “But then when the moment came, I knew the middle wasn’t up and it was wide open.”

She ended the game leading the Jayhawks in kills with 14, while Elnady and Davis each tallied nine of their own. Burns and Turner led defensively with 13 digs each, while Bien had nine and Turner led with 39 assists along with four from Dalton.

After Saturday’s clean sweep of the Wildcats, No. 14 Kansas is second in the Big 12 Conference standings and is expected to continue to climb up the coach’s poll in the coming weeks. Discussing what sort of goals his team has as the season moves on, Bechard made it clear that the Jayhawks were focused on the present and improving on the little things.

“It’s a little bit at a time. Just going to pay attention to what we’re doing. There’s so many areas that we can make small adjustments, small gains, and that’s what we’ll continue to try to do,” he said.

Kansas will look to build on this season’s and this weekend’s success in its next matches against Iowa State in Ames on Nov. 10 and 11.

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World

Kansas graduate Mykayla Myers attempts to block a hit against Kansas State on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Lawrence.

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World

Kansas junior Caroline Bien bumps the ball against Kansas State on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023.

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World

Kansas graduate Mykayla Myers and junior London Davis attempt to block a hit against Kansas State on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023.

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World

Kansas is jubilant against Kansas State on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023.

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World

Kansas junior Caroline Bien hits the ball against Kansas State on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023.

photo by: Chance Parker/Journal-World

Kansas junior Camryn Turner is jubilant after scoring a point against Kansas State on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023.


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