Playing without kills leader Jenny Mosser for the second day in a row, the Kansas volleyball team rallied to build a 2-1 lead Saturday over West Virginia only to see the Mountaineers prevail in five sets, 25-16, 22-25, 22-25, 25-21 and 15-12.
The 10th-ranked Jayhawks now have lost five matches in a row since winning the season opener over second-ranked Baylor.
“We’ve got a very young team and right now they just need a good result,” KU coach Ray Bechard said after the match.
Mosser, the graduate transfer from UCLA who Bechard called the team’s best server, attacker and blocker and “a stabilizing force,” is not injured and Bechard said he was unsure when she would be available again.
He said the team had just one day to prepare to play without her and added that the Jayhawks (1-5) were “piecing it together” on the fly during the past two days, with young players getting unexpected opportunities, the installment of a two-setter system and players moving around to help offset her absence.
It nearly worked.
After a sluggish start in the opening set, the Jayhawks caught fire in sets 2 and 3 and entered the fourth set with a chance to end the match early.
“Tonight, we had every opportunity to finish it in four,” Bechard said. “And we put ourselves in position both nights to be successful without (Mosser).”
After trailing 3-0 to open the second set, the Jayhawks found something that worked in production from freshman Caroline Crawford. Crawford’s play at the net not only helped KU stay afloat early, but it also pushed the Jayhawks to their first lead since early in the first set.
Back-to-back Crawford blocks early in the set pulled KU to within one and another block from the freshman midway through helped put KU ahead.
Kansas played with the lead the rest of the set and staved off a late push by WVU (3-3) to even the match at a win apiece.
It wasn’t just Crawford who stepped up for Kansas. After being out-hit .429 to .148 in the first set, the Jayhawks out-hit the Mountaineers .281 to .182 in the second, with junior Paige Shaw and freshman Karli Schmidt each delivering some big swings.
Although not as consistently involved as the rest of KU’s attack, junior middle blocker Rachel Langs delivered some clutch swings for points in both the second and third sets.
Just when it looked like the Jayhawks might be losing control of the third set and the match, Bechard called timeout and his team responded with four consecutive points out of the timeout to close out the set.
Freshman setter Elise McGhie started the point party with a quick dump to tie things at 22. Crawford and Schmidt followed that with a block to put KU up 23-22 and force a WVU timeout.
Out of the timeout, Anezka Szabo ripped a kill off a would-be blocker out of bounds, and Crawford put the match away with a blast from the middle.
The Mountaineers flipped the script in the fourth set to stay alive, closing the match on a 7-2 run and forcing a fifth set for the second straight day.
“Youth is going to create peaks and valleys,” Bechard said.
That was on full display in the fifth, when the Jayhawks fell behind 12-5 but rallied to cut the WVU lead to 13-12 before falling 15-12.
With KU trailing 12-5 and appearing to go down 13-5 after a wild rally, Bechard used one of his challenges, saying the ball hit the floor on the WVU side during the rally. After a review, officials ruled that Bechard was right and KU’s deficit was 12-6 instead. The Jayhawks used that momentum to score six of the next seven points.
Crawford played with serious intensity during the fifth-set run, roaring after a block at the net pulled KU within 13-11 and then racing to get to a quick set on the very next point to bury the kill and pull the Jayhawks within one.
But a West Virginia timeout calmed the nerves of the visitors, who closed out the match with a block and an ace in the next two points.
“This experience our young girls are getting now, I know it stings a little, but it’s good for them and you just have to keep going,” Bechard said.
KU will return to action at 6 p.m. Friday at Oklahoma. The Jayhawks and Sooners will play two matches next weekend, with KU and OU also facing off at 4 p.m. Saturday.