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Saturday, December 12, 2015

KU volleyball advances in NCAA Tournament

 Kansas players Tiana Dockery, Cassie Wait (hidden), Madison Rigdon, Tayler Soucie, Ainise Havili and Anna Church celebrate after the Jayhawks defeated Loyola Marymount in the NCAA Tournament on Friday night in San Diego.

Kansas players Tiana Dockery, Cassie Wait (hidden), Madison Rigdon, Tayler Soucie, Ainise Havili and Anna Church celebrate after the Jayhawks defeated Loyola Marymount in the NCAA Tournament on Friday night in San Diego.

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— The best volleyball team in the history of Kansas University accomplished another first Friday night in Jenny Craig Pavilion, and it was the biggest one yet.

The Jayhawks became the first volleyball team in school history to reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Looking dominant in the second and fourth sets, Kansas defeated Loyola Marymount University, 25-19, 25-11, 21-25, 25-13. The Jayhawks lost their way serving for stretches, but never lost their composure.

Eighteenth-year Kansas coach Ray Bechard does a nice job of keeping his emotions in check, but when he said the word Omaha, site of the Final Four, his face involuntarily broke into a smile that lit up the state of California.

“I’ve always wanted Jayhawk fans to be proud of our volleyball program,” Bechard said.

Mission accomplished. Relatives of the players and Kansas alumni on hand to support their university’s team made their presence felt by pumping up the volume from their seats in the two sections behind the KU bench.

“Obviously, at the University of Kansas, we have some sports that have done extremely well,” said Bechard, whose son Brennan is on basketball coach Bill Self’s staff. “We want volleyball to be spoken of in high regard just like some of the other sports are. We want to be an elite team, and we put elite expectations on these kids each and every day in practice.”

The harder this team is driven by the coaching staff, it seems, the closer together the circle draws.

“We have an unbelieveable staff that works hard,” Bechard continued. “We’ve got a group of young ladies who believe in themselves and believe in each other. Here we are, one match away from Omaha.”

That’s right. Kansas is one step away from the Final Four. One giant step.

Kansas (29-2), seeded ninth in the tournament, will face No. 1 seed USC, which is gunning for its seventh national title. USC on Friday defeated Creighton, 3-1, in the other regional semifinal. The Trojans are led by two-time All-American Samantha Bricio.

The West regional final is scheduled to start at 10:30 p.m. Central and will be televised on ESPNU.

The stars shined for Kansas in defeating a Loyola Marymount squad that advanced to the Sweet 16 with a sweep against heavily favored Stanford.

Sophomore Kelsie Payne gave Loyola defenders fits all night by soaring so high and firing high-velocity, steep-angled bullets onto the floor. She had 21 kills and a .400 hitting percentage. Classmate Ainise Havili had 49 assists. Fellow sophomore Madison Rigdon had 10 kills and 14 digs.

Kansas defended so well that two sets into the night, LMU had a negative hitting percentage and finished the night at .050, compared to KU’s .296, including a .484 mark in the clinching set, when the Jayhawks smelled the finish line and could not be stopped. In the second and fourth sets combined, Kansas had just two attack errors. They were every bit as impressive defensively, especially at the net.

Junior Tayler Soucie was in on 12 blocks, Rigdon seven, Payne five. Cassie Wait had 23 digs, joining Rigdon and Tiana Dockery (10) in double figures.

The Jayhawks didn’t trail once in the opening set and closed it out on a 5-1 run. Impressive, but nothing compared to what came in the next set, when the Jayhawks fell behind, 7-6, and went on a 19-4 tear from there. Four of LMU’s points in the second set came on KU service errors, of which there were 11 on the night, compared to four for the Lions.

KU’s only two losses have been to Texas, which means the Jayhawks never have lost a match in which they were favored.

Dockery, the only player in program history to play in four NCAA tournaments, did a nice job of summing up what the team thinks of itself.

“This is a great time for us to be playing our best and doing the things we’ve been working for and training for all season,” Dockery said. “... We feel like we still have so much more.”

The Jayhawks responded like winners after losing a set coming out of intermission.

“Third set was a little rough, but we pulled out of it and told ourselves we needed to focus and fight, just like we did against Mizzou and against any of the other teams where we had lost a set,” Dockery said.

Next up: The biggest match in the history of Kansas volleyball.

Comments

Suzi Marshall 6 years, 6 months ago

The determination the team showed in the 4th set was terrific. The elite 8 match-up would be a worthy final-four pairing, assume we play USC, http://espn.go.com/college-sports/rankings/_/pollId/89/sportId/18530000.

Thanks to Tom Keegan for the twitter updates for sets 1 & 2, since ESPN 3 was not functional for those sets.

Raymond Wright 6 years, 6 months ago

i was talking about the first two matches that were not on espn3

Dirk Medema 6 years, 6 months ago

Maybe not live, but my comment was after the game/replay at which time the entire match was available on ESPN.

Stan Unruh 6 years, 6 months ago

Thanks to Gary Bedore for the twitter updates...

Len Shaffer 6 years, 6 months ago

AWESOME job, ladies! Now it's time to take down the mighty Trojans (assuming that Creighton doesn't pull the monumental upset).

W Keith Swinehart II 6 years, 6 months ago

Stay focused and fight as always. More to do in Omaha.

Dirk Medema 6 years, 6 months ago

A little premature. More to do in SD first. A LOT more to do against the overall #1 seed USC.

Gerry Butler 6 years, 6 months ago

Way to go, what a great season, love the toughness, the attitude. Huge challenge tonight, but I like our chances, watched USC very good but then again remind me a lot of Texas, their 2 time all American has a cannon of an arm going to have to really dig down, well no pun intended there lol Great Job ladies and as they say survive and advance so proud keep it up. ROCK CHALK ALL DAY LONG BABY

Joe Joseph 6 years, 6 months ago

Can you imagine the fan-support KU will have in Omaha if it's fortunate enough to win?

Jim Pendleton 6 years, 6 months ago

Better hope Nebraska doesn't win their match then, because they have always had big crowds when this tourney has been in Omaha. Minnesota & Texas would also figure to have decent followings as well. But I agree that the Hawks would have a good following there as well. Best of luck to the ladies this evening!

Dirk Medema 6 years, 6 months ago

The tickets could be crazy. Nebraska and Minnesota already in with KU and UT still possible & probable.

All midwest & Big 10 vs. Big 12?

Dirk Medema 6 years, 6 months ago

And so it is!

KU on to the Final Four!!!!

We play the Huskers next Thursday in Omaha, and UT plays Minnesota.

Could this be an '88-ish sort of thing where we beat on conference nemesis for the NC?

Rock Chalk Ladies!!!

DaNeille Dani Davis 6 years, 6 months ago

Great job ladies! Keep on going!! Don't let the magical year end! Even the #1 teams in the country are beatable!! Rock chalk!

Marius Rowlanski 6 years, 6 months ago

Absolutely fantastic! Three more wins and Kansas will have their next NCAA champion. I'm not worried about Nebraska and their fans. This team has shown it's capable of getting the job done.

Way to go ladies!

I will be watching ESPNU. Just Fantastic!

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