KU volleyball takes massive step toward hosting NCAA Tournament matches with win over BYU

photo by: Carter Gaskins/Special to the Journal-World

Kansas' Raegan Burns (3) celebrates in the arms of Toyosi Onabanjo (11) and teammates after a point at Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023, against Baylor.

The 13th-ranked BYU volleyball team hadn’t lost a match in the friendly confines of Smith Fieldhouse all season — and had only lost seven there in the past nine years — before Kansas came to town Friday night.

The No. 17 Jayhawks made a statement in Provo and substantially bolstered their candidacy to host NCAA Tournament matches at the end of the month, bouncing back from a narrow first-set loss and topping the Cougars 3-1 (23-25, 25-20, 25-23, 25-22).

In her second match back from injury, graduate transfer Reagan Cooper dazzled once again with 25 kills, tying her career high in just four sets, on .429 hitting, including 10 in the third set, to lead the Jayhawks to victory. Ayah Elnady followed her up with 18 more — plus 10 digs for a double-double — and both benefited as usual from the setting of Camryn Turner, who racked up 49 assists.

“There were two really good teams out there tonight, and a great atmosphere,” KU coach Ray Bechard said in a press release. “You just had a sense that it was a really important match for both sides. We had great performances from Cooper and Ayah offensively, but everybody, whether it be serving or defense or whatever it is, chipped in and created an opportunity for us to win.”

BYU wasn’t too far behind KU in any statistical category, as it hit .255 to the Jayhawks’ .284 and got 21 kills from Erin Livingston plus 11 each from Mia Lee and Whitney McEwan-Llarenas, but it did commit nine service errors to KU’s three.

The Cougars withstood a 9-2 KU win midway through the first set and, after going down 23-22, scored three straight points on two Livingston kills and an Elnady attack error to claim the game.

But KU was undaunted in a facility that has been so hostile to Big 12 Conference foes this year — BYU had swept six of its seven home league matches — and jumped out to a 9-4 lead in the second set on a long string of errors. It then maintained that advantage thanks to three straight Elnady kills.

The Jayhawks hit a snag when, up 22-16, they had attacks blocked on three straight possessions and Bechard had to call timeout. But Elnady and Cooper were eventually able to finish off the set at 25-20 and even the match at 1-1.

The third, of course, was driven by the combo of Turner and Cooper, who helped KU get out of an early hole. Toyosi Onabanjo provided a couple of late kills to get the Jayhawks level at 18-18 and 19-19. McEwan-Llarenas briefly got the Cougars ahead before Cooper accounted for four of KU’s final six points.

KU then seized the opportunity to close out the match rather than getting dragged into another five-set bonanza (as it had twice in Ames, Iowa, last week). Two kills by London Davis helped the Jayhawks surge ahead at 20-16, but BYU responded with Whitney Bower to get back to 20-20. Livingston brought BYU as close as down 23-22 but committed a service error before the match ended on an Elyse Stowell attack error.

The victory, which is the Jayhawks’ second in a row against a ranked team, positions them well for reaching the top 16 nationally with two matches to go. If they can beat Cincinnati Tuesday and UCF Friday, they will be on track to host NCAA Tournament matches at Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena in less than two weeks.


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