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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Sixth-ranked Kansas volleyball knocks off No. 2 Texas in 5-set thriller

Kansas setter Ainise Havili (11) pumps her fist during Saturday's win against Texas. The Jayhawks beat the Longhorns in five sets.

Kansas setter Ainise Havili (11) pumps her fist during Saturday's win against Texas. The Jayhawks beat the Longhorns in five sets.

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After dropping the fourth set 25-12 and giving all the momentum from back-to-back victories in the second and third to Texas, Kansas setter Ainise Havili gathered her team before the decisive fifth and shared one simple message.

“She was like, ‘We’ve worked so hard for this and we’re not gonna roll over. This is our chance and we’ve gotta go take it,’” recalled Kansas junior Madison Rigdon.

Twenty-five magical points and 22 heart-racing minutes later, the sixth-ranked Jayhawks finally knew what it felt like to beat Texas, winning a five-set thriller, over the nation's second-ranked team, 17-25, 25-11, 27-25, 12-25 and 15-10 at Horejsi Family Athletics Center.

When freshman Jada Burse recorded KU’s 13th block of the night to seal the victory, the gymnasium erupted, the Jayhawks went wild and the party was underway.

“It feels amazing,” said Rigdon after a mini-celebration in the locker room that trickled back onto the court and eventually into the stands to thank the die-hard KU volleyball fans in attendance. “We’ve wanted it for so long and it finally happened. I’m like speechless.... It’s more than I thought it would be. I’m so excited for our team and what’s next.”

Saturday’s match had a little bit of everything and certainly was not for the faint of heart. Texas controlled the net in jumping out to victory in the first set and Kansas responded with a dominant performance in the second.

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Kansas libero Cassie Wait (5) reacts after the Jayhawks beat the Longhorns in five sets on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016 at the Horejsi Center.

Junior outside hitter Kelsie Payne, who finished with 21 kills, said she thought KU’s performance in second set was the turning point because it got KU back in the match and restored the Jayhawks’ confidence.

“We were pretty much perfect,” Payne said of her team in that second set. “We just really played Kansas volleyball.”

Of late, that has meant playing smart, playing hard, playing with a clear mind and focusing most on the things they could control. The Jayhawks caught a couple of breaks — most notably bang-bang contacts by Burse and Kayla Cheadle that crawled over the net to push KU’s fifth-set lead to 14-10 — but also gave a few points away, as well. In the end, head coach Ray Bechard said KU’s victory came down to one thing — the will of this team to get the result it so desperately wanted and believed it deserved.

“I just think they were gonna stay out there as long as they needed to tonight to beat Texas,” Bechard said.

During Saturday’s good moments and the bad, the Jayhawks found themselves thinking back on a pre-game message from senior setter Maggie Anderson, who had yet to experience the euphoria of knocking off one of college volleyball’s true powerhouse programs.

“Before we came out, Maggie says, ‘I need to beat Texas before I leave here,’ and everybody responded to Maggie, Cassie (Wait) and (Tayler) Soucie and how important that was to them, because those three (seniors) have put in a lot of hard work for this team.”

Asked how big of a factor that message and the desire to win one for the upperclassmen played on Saturday, Rigdon and Payne uttered nearly the exact same words.

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The Kansas Jayhawks, led by senior setter Maggie Anderson (19) go crazy after beating the Longhorns in five sets on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016 at the Horejsi Center.

“A lot,” Rigdon said. “I think that pumped us up. This was their last (time) playing Texas and I think that really motivated everybody to play for each other.”

Saturday’s victory snapped a 25-match losing skid to Texas (17-3 overall, 9-1 Big 12) and pulled the Jayhawks (20-2, 9-1) into a tie for first place in the Big 12 standings. It also extended KU’s current winning streak to eight matches.

More than that, though, it will go down as the latest stop in what has been an incredible journey during the past few seasons, starting with an NCAA Tournament berth and victory in 2012, a Sweet 16 appearance in 2013 and, of course, last year’s run to the Final Four.

“Obviously they’re gonna be happy about it,” Bechard said. “But this needs to be part of our journey and not our destination.”

After letting the long-awaited victory sink in over the weekend, Kansas will return to action Monday in preparation for Wednesday’s showdown with Kansas State in Manhattan.

None by Matt Tait

Comments

David Kelley-Wood 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Great, gutsy win! Awesome performance, Jayhawks!

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Joe Ross 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Im buying season tickets next year for volleyball

Andy Godwin 11 months, 4 weeks ago

You might need to find some scalpers. Second host ticket in Lawrence.

Brad Farha 11 months, 4 weeks ago

The games are amazing. This whole season sold out months ago.

Micky Baker 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Big time...

Great support from the fans.. places looked like there was not a single empty seat.

Brad Farha 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Posted above, but worth mentioning again here -- the whole season sold out months ago.

Armen Kurdian 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I wish this was on FS1 instead...awesome!

Joseph Bullock 11 months, 4 weeks ago

They are completely sold out for the season, Micky Baker-and people always show up! Rock Chalk, Villeyball Hawks! I went to the first K-State match, and I may go to the one on Wednesday, in Manhattan!

Brett McCabe 11 months, 4 weeks ago

AFH West.

Congrats on a big win and congrats to the fans who have been supporting this program so strongly over recent years. RCJHK!

Gerry Butler 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Awsome win, Been looking forward to this for awhile. Just steady progress, getting better and better. Looking forward to the rest of the season. - -No letting up now ladies. Looking forward to the NCAA'S - -ROCK CHALK ALL DAY LONG BABY

Andy Godwin 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Proud of these student/athletes. This team has true leadership and grit. The lady Jays continue to proudly represent the University on and off the court. “But this needs to be part of our journey and not our destination.” As coach Bechard emphasizes, to reach the next goal, they will likely have no room for error if they want to win a share of the BigXII regular season.

Jeff Kilgore 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Are fans being turned away for lack of seating? If so, there's an obvious solution . . . .

Brad Farha 11 months, 3 weeks ago

I would love to have a bigger facility for volleyball, but Allen is not the solution. Games played at Allen don't have the juice they do in Horejsi. It's just too big and not well setup for volleyball.

I think Keegan did an article a while back about the benefits of a purpose built facility for volleyball and women's basketball. I'm not convinced that they move women's basketball to a different facility, but having a 4K to 6K facility for volleyball would be awesome. Get more fans in there, but keep the intense home court advantage.

Humpy Helsel 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Or, there is a large outdoor stadium on campus not getting that much use in the Fall season. Maybe they could play there. Plenty of seating.

Brad Farha 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Great, great win! Came so close to getting them at home last year, and glad they got over the hump this year. Love this team, and it's a blast watching them compete.

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