San Diego Left for dead yet again, the remarkable Kansas University women’s volleyball team had one more comeback in it, and — miracle of miracles — the Jayhawks are headed to the Final Four for the first time in school history.
They knocked off top-seeded USC by scoring the final six points of a dramatic five-set victory.
Score it 25-18, 25-21, 22-25, 19-25, 15-13 for the Jayhawks, who face Nebraska on Thursday in Omaha, Nebraska.
After winning the first two sets and losing the next two when national player of the year Samantha Bricio began to dominate, Kansas rebounded from deficits of 5-1 and 13-9 to pull off the amazing comeback, winning when Madison Rigdon’s bullet hit the floor and triggered an on-court celebration.
KU fans broke into a “Final Four! Final Four!” chant.
As had happened in a four-set regional semifinal victory against Loyola Marymount, Kansas left its magic in the locker room during intermission after winning the first two sets.
USC took a 12-3 lead into a timeout in the third set, when the Jayhawks showed yet again that they are every bit as hard to kill as they are talented.
With Ainise Havili working her magic, most cleverly with a back-hand tap that softly cleared the net and barely made a sound as it hit the floor for KU’s ninth point, KU stormed back into the set with an 11-3 run. It was the first of four times the Jayhawks drew within a point without tying it. Finally they tied the score at 19, but the Trojans with Bricio heating up took the set by scoring three of the final four points.
Kansas lost the set, but as it had in winning the first two sets, showed it considered itself nothing less than USC’s equal.
The KU volleyball team will return to Lawrence at approximately 5 p.m. Sunday and fans are encouraged to show up to Horejsi Family Athletics Center then to welcome the team back after its huge weekend in San Diego.
In the opening set, Kansas took a 7-5 lead, fell behind 9-8, and regained the lead, 13-11, fell behind 13-14, and roared back to take an 18-14 when Janae Hall and Kelsie Payne skied high to team on an impressive block. Kansas finished the set on a 12-5 tear.
Payne, set beautifully by Havili, contributed her first kill during a first set in which Havili contributed her normal array of perfectly placed sets, and as she almost always does, also picked up a soft kill by deceptively finding the open spot on the floor.
Havili’s family members, more than two dozen of them, were easy to spot in the crowd. They wore identical black T-shirts with KANSAS across the chest in white letters and VOLLEYBALL underneath it in red letters. The Jayhawk is holding the Tongan flag, native country of Havili’s parents. Her mother’s family members came to San Diego from Texas, her father’s relatives from San Francisco. They all brought an abundance of spirit.
Blessed with an uncanny knack for knowing precisely where and when to put a pass for an attacking teammate, Havili gave relatives plenty about which to go wild.
The previous night, Creighton had taken the first set from USC, so when the Trojans jumped to a 6-2 lead in the second set, those in the arena unfamiliar with the Jayhawks’ ability to respond to adversity with a three-word mantra — “focus and fight” — shared by senior Tiana Dockery, probably figured it would be all Trojans for the rest of the night.
Not the case. KU went on a 22-13 run to take command.
Two sets in, Kansas had done such a good job of not leaving open spots on floor and handling hot attacks that USC’s hitting percentages were .026 and .094 in advance of intermission. At that point, Kansas did not look at all intimidated by either the mighty Trojans or the reality that a Final Four berth was at stake.
The Jayhawks fueled up for the match four hours before the start, as is customary for most sports, and dined at the team hotel on chicken, shrimp, vegetables and roasted potatoes.
Nothing about the way they strolled to the team bus suggested this was a group of young women about to play the biggest match in their school’s history and their lives. They looked the same as always, which is to say loose, quietly confident, thoroughly enjoying each other’s company.
TV finally gave the go-ahead for the match to start, at 10:37 p.m. Central, after a few minutes of standing around on the court waiting for the green light. More of the same quiet confidence, composure and togetherness was on display once the ball started flying back and forth across the net.
— Stay logged on to KUsports.com for more on the historic match, including reaction from the Jayhawks in San Diego.