A furious fourth-set rally helped the Kansas University volleyball team preserve its fast start, and the 22nd-ranked Jayhawks knocked off No. 24 Iowa State, 25-21, 25-23, 22-25, 25-20, in Ames, Iowa, to give Kansas its first victory at ISU since 2004.
“The coaches were saying all day how they didn’t feel like we had a lot of energy with us,” said senior setter Erin McNorton, who led KU with 37 assists. “But I think we were just really, really focused.”
The victory not only erased the bad vibe that lingered from dropping a five-set match to the Cyclones earlier this season in Lawrence, but also helped position the Jayhawks (21-6 overall, 11-3 Big 12) to potentially host first- and second-round NCAA Tournament matches at Allen Fieldhouse for the second year in a row.
KU coach Ray Bechard said hosting in the postseason was not something his team had talked about much and added that discussing it was not necessary.
“It isn’t,” Bechard said. “We’ve got smart kids. They know how it works. Obviously, we’re a little bit closer to that goal after a night like tonight.”
The victory moved the Jayhawks into sole possession of second place in the Big 12 standings with two conference matches remaining — Saturday vs. Texas Tech and the season finale on Nov. 30 at Oklahoma. McNorton said achieving something that had never been done in KU history has been a huge source of motivation for the Jayhawks during recent weeks.
“We’ve won up here before,” Bechard said before leaving Ames. “But we’ve never been in the top two in the Big 12. That is very important to us. We’ve still got work to do, but that would’ve been next to impossible if we didn’t get it done here tonight.”
Added libero Bri Riley: “We were just so confident out there. We knew what was at stake tonight.”
Wednesday’s victory was the result of a fast start for the Jayhawks, who jumped out to big leads in the first two sets and took a commanding 2-0 lead into the break, needing just one victory in the final three sets to get out of Hilton Coliseum with the win.
“You come in here and they want to get things going and we just had them on their heels early on,” Bechard said.
The early momentum carried the Jayhawks through the first two sets but the mandatory break between the second and third sets allowed Iowa State to settle down.
The Jayhawks said Wednesday was one of those nights when the break in the action actually hurt. Back in the locker room the Jayhawks did not feel the need to change anything.
“We just wanted to stay out there,” Bechard said.
Added Riley: “Even when they would call timeouts, we were like, ‘No, we want to finish.’”
The Cyclones (17-7, 10-3) controlled the third set and jumped out to an 7-3 lead in the fourth. But, after trailing 15-14 midway through the final set, KU closed the door with an 11-5 run.
“Strong finish in the fourth, that’s for sure,” Bechard said.
Several Jayhawks played lights-out volleyball during the 3-1 victory over the Cyclones, but one statistic caught Bechard’s eye more than any other. The Jayhawks entered Wednesday ranked last in the Big 12 in aces per set but ripped off nine Wednesday night, each one packing an extra dose of momentum as it hit the floor.
Senior Caroline Jarmoc recorded a career-high four aces, senior defensive specialist Jaime Mathieu tied her career-high with two and McNorton, Riley and Amy Wehrs each added one.
“We were just a lot more aggressive with our serves tonight,” Bechard said. “And we did that against a good passing team.”
Chelsea Albers (14 kills), Jarmoc (7), Catherine Carmichael (7), Tayler Soucie (5) and Tiana Dockery (5) led KU’s offensive attack and each played a big part in keeping the Cyclones from dictating the tempo.
“I don’t think they ever really got into their rhythm,” McNorton said of the Cyclones. “Tonight was a great way to head into Senior Day (1 p.m. Saturday) and the stretch run of the season.”