Waco, Tex. It took another five-set match, but the No. 4-ranked Kansas volleyball team clinched sole possession of the Big 12 Conference title with a thrilling road victory against Baylor on Saturday, 25-20, 25-15, 16-25, 22-25, 15-9.
After winning the first two sets, the Jayhawks saw the Bears fight back to force a fifth and decisive set at Ferrell Center. But KU pulled away with four straight points, including three consecutive kills by junior outside hitter Kelsie Payne, who returned from an ankle injury after missing the team's home match last week.
It's the first time in program history that the Jayhawks (26-2, 15-1 in Big 12) have won a Big 12 title and they extended their winning streak to 14 matches.
"It feels great," Kansas coach Ray Bechard said. "I need to get beyond the fact that we let Baylor back in the match and enjoy what this team has accomplished over a 16-match conference schedule.
"We are one true champion as a member of the only power-five conference which plays a double round-robin schedule. We had to take everybody's best shot twice. I'm very proud of our team. Over the last seven matches we have played five five-setters, but remained resilient enough to win."
Payne led the Jayhawks with 19 kills and 10 digs, which improved to 8-0 in five-set matches. Freshman Jada Burse added 16 kills, Tayler Soucie had 12 kills and eight blocks, and Madison Rigdon recorded 11 kills and 13 digs. Junior setter Ainise Havili posted a double-double with 53 assists and 13 digs.
The Jayhawks, who earned an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament by winning the Big 12, will learn of their postseason schedule at 8 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.
"I'm proud of this group," Bechard said. "Now we can close the chapter on a great regular season and get ready for what we hope is a great postseason."