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Friday, December 18, 2015

End of the road: Huskers too much for KU in Omaha

KU  coach Ray Bechard talks to the media after their loss to Nebraska on Thursday December 17, 2015 as  Nebraska outlasted Kansas 3-1.

KU coach Ray Bechard talks to the media after their loss to Nebraska on Thursday December 17, 2015 as Nebraska outlasted Kansas 3-1.

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— The Kansas University volleyball program’s dream season came to an uncharacteristic end in front of an NCAA record crowd of 17,551 on Thursday night at CenturyLink Center.

Playing before the most fans to ever watch an NCAA Tournament volleyball match — most of them wearing red and screaming for the team that came from just 59 miles down the road in Lincoln — Kansas fell victim to more than a dozen unforced errors and watched No. 4 Nebraska (31-4) advance to Saturday’s national title match against Texas with a four-set victory over the Jayhawks, 25-20, 25-21, 20-25 and 25-16.

There will be no all-Big 12 final nor will Kansas get one more crack at the Texas Longhorns, who knocked off Minnesota in four sets in Thursday’s first semifinal match.

The Jayhawks finished their unprecedented 2015 season with an all-time best record of 30-3 and those three losses came to the two teams playing in the national championship match.

“We just weren’t good enough tonight in a couple phases of the game,” KU coach Ray Bechard said. “Our serving’s been up and down all year and our passing’s been good but those two things put us in a hole early on.”

KU, which advanced to the first Final Four in school history with an improbable comeback over top-seeded USC last weekend in San Diego, recorded seven service errors in the first two sets alone — nine for the match — and did not fire its lone ace until Anna Church’s perfectly placed serve gave KU a 22-18 lead in the third set.

“If you’ve followed our team, we’ve been an interesting serving team,” Bechard said. “This spring, I’m guaranteeing you we’re gonna spend a lot of time on that.”

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Nebraska's Kelsey Fien (14) swings against KU sophomore Ainise Havili (11) and junior Janae Hall (16) on Thursday, December 17, 2015 at the CenturyLink Center, in Omaha, Nebraska.

There were a couple of crucial moments in the first two sets that turned the tide of the match.

With KU trailing 17-18, the Jayhawks executed a perfect pass, set and swing and forced the ‘Huskers to scramble on the other side of the net. But as the ball sailed toward the scorer’s table, Nebraska saved it and cut it over the net, inside the antenna and back into play. The Jayhawks could not recover and instead of tying the set at 18 went down 19-17 en route to the five-point, first-set loss.

“It absolutely was a huge swing,” Bechard said of the wild save. “It looked like it was an impossible angle. That should’ve been a play that we converted on.”

In the second set, the Jayhawks again struggled to limit their mistakes and Nebraska’s defense continued to handle everything the Jayhawks threw at it. Even when the ‘Huskers needed three and four swings to put the ball down, their defense and perfect positioning enabled them to take all the time they needed.

Even with KU’s struggles serving, the Jayhawks hung tough and nearly pushed the match to a fifth set.

All-American right-side hitter Kelsie Payne (22 kills on 33 swings and just three errors) was solid all night, but Nebraska never gave her the opportunity to completely take over the match.

“Twenty-two kills and three errors, she hit .576 on 33 swings and everyone knew we were going to her,” Bechard said. “She was outstanding. That performance was as good as any we saw in either match tonight.”

For a while, throughout the third set and halfway into the fourth, Kansas started to play the brand of volleyball that helped it get past top seed USC in San Diego.

The Jayhawks scrambled and passed better on defense and also got more physical at the net. After a quiet start, junior Janae Hall was a beast on both side of the net finishing the third set with four kills and four blocks.

That, along with fewer errors propelled Kansas to take the third set, 25-20.

In the fourth, despite trailing most of the way, KU found itself down just 18-16, but missed an easy opportunity to pull closer and watched NU to go up 19-16. Nebraska flexed its muscles the rest of the way and cruised into the national championship match.

“We started executing (again) and all the pressure went back on Kansas,” NU coach John Cook said. “It was a really nice way to finish that match. We played some flawless volleyball from that point on.”

Despite the loss, the Jayhawks never stopped believing they could and would come back.

“We’ve done a great job of coming back all year and especially lately,” Payne said. “And I definitely thought we were going to make a run and get back into it.”

It didn’t happen. And instead of talking about a rematch with Texas, the Jayhawks were left to reflect on a magical season that ended in the one place every college volleyball team hoped to play when the season began.

“It was an awesome opportunity,” said junior libero Cassie Wait of playing in the Final Four. “The ball didn’t fall our way, and we didn’t play the match we wanted to play, but we’re gonna make this a standard, not so much a goal anymore.”

Added sophomore setter Ainise Havili, who finished with 38 assists: “This sucks. Everybody hates this feeling. But that comes with this sport and we’re gonna work hard and come back next year. It’s been fun. It’s been a great year. We fight hard and we showed that tonight in front of 17,000 people. Can’t ask for more.”

Comments

Armen Kurdian 6 years, 5 months ago

Definitely too many points lost on serve on both sides of the net. Always sucks to lose in the tournament, but wow, what a great season. Hate to have lost to NU yet again, but KU absolutely proved they deserved to be there with grit and determination. and beating the #1 team in the country on the way there. So hats off to you ladies on a fantastic season...I'll buy the T-shirt!

Clarence Haynes 6 years, 5 months ago

I am extremely proud of this team! KU Volleyball is building something special here as it is returning a huge number of gifted and talented athletes! Rock Chalk!

Steve Grimm 6 years, 5 months ago

So proud of these lady Jayhawks! Had fun watching this sport played at such a high level. Looking forward to building on this for next year. Congrats!

Joe Ross 6 years, 5 months ago

Define a "loss".

Because taking the program further than it has ever gone, generating more interest than has ever been, and looking to a brighter future than ever before don't seem to fit with that word.

This season is a HUGE win for KU womens volleyball. I never paid attention before but now Im wondering how to get season tickets. This train is moving forward with a full head of steam. There's no head hanging here.

Jay Scott 6 years, 5 months ago

A truly inspiring effort. Great season.

With lots of talent returning and the experience of advancing this far for players and coaches this team will face another obstacle in the fall that no Jayhawk volleyball has before.

Expectations.

Congrats team. You've taken a big step.

Layne Pierce 6 years, 5 months ago

Thinking how far this program has come, and all hats off to Coach Bechard and his staff, and this great team. I live in Lincoln, so I see the Nebraska team play a lot. Being a KU grad, I was rooting for KU, but painfully, I realized that ultimately, we needed one more player to have a good game. Payne was every bit an All-American, and Havili also. But who else can you say played really well. We also need 6-2, and above at least one more. We made a lot of errors, but the pressure of that height, caused a lot of them. Once Payne got out of the rotation in game 4, at the end, we were done. Nebraska did not let her get back in.

I am still incredibly happy and satisfied with this team and the program, but I feel we can even go up, and most of all stay on a top 25 level.

Rock chalk

DaNeille Dani Davis 6 years, 5 months ago

This team has so much to be proud of. Congratulations! I know you're hurting now but you are winners. Thanks for the wonderful ride! Rock Chalk!!

Brett McCabe 6 years, 5 months ago

Heard on the radio that the Final Four is in Kansas City in two years, when our two All-Americans will be seniors. Maybe we can return the favor to the Huskers, and end the streak all at once.

Jay Scott 6 years, 5 months ago

Nebraska fans will be lining up to buy those tickets when they go on sale too. Most Husker fans bought theirs for Omaha months ago. The KU faithful better be ready.

Bryce Landon 6 years, 5 months ago

Here's hoping the Longhorns kick the snot out of those Corncobbers.

Harlan Hobbs 6 years, 5 months ago

No tears here! Nothing but smiles and self satisfaction in knowing that you have given it your all. As Joe says, there are no losers here.

Congratulations on a landmark year, and best wishes to the team and coaches as they move forward. You've given us uncountable thrills along the way. Thank you!

Kent Richardson 6 years, 5 months ago

Substitution rules are out of my sphere of understanding. Is this something that happens in high school? Weird. I can understand rotation and versatility but making someone sit out for whatever sequence? Enjoyed the match and look forward to their success. Nice job women!!

Gerry Butler 6 years, 5 months ago

ya I too Kent I haven't quite figure the subsituation/rotation not saying anything wrong, just me I don't understand, seems lie every time I look there goes the payne train rotating out. I know that just the way it is, but I don't understand how it works, and I've been watching and following the last couple of years. GREAT SEASON LADIES

David Kelley-Wood 6 years, 5 months ago

This one loss doesn't detract from what was a season of tremendous accomplishment. Still, I'm sure the ladies are disappointed that their performance in the final match wasn't entirely up to their own standards. I attribute that mostly to disorientation (not intimidation). Yes, they were looking forward to experiencing the exciting atmosphere, but not being fearful of it isn't at all the same as not being thrown off their focus just a tad by unfamiliarity with it. But, what do I know? Admittedly, not much. It's too bad they don't do these tournaments like the NBA or MLB, where it's best of 5, or best of 7. I know, it is what it is, but I really believe that this team would have been able to overcome the disorientation factor, but not inside of 2 hours. Bottom line: Couldn't be prouder of our team (and program). Couldn't possibly love them more. RCJHKU.

Gerry Butler 6 years, 5 months ago

what I think is happening is- - -a new giant has arrived on the block, this team has arrived on the scene and I don't think it's going anywhere anytime soon, I feel with out coaching staff and the talent returning, having solid recruiting years which this final 4 experience/exposure can ONLY HELP recruiting, I feel there is about to be a new team in the mix - - - THATS US , word of caution to opponents- - -LOOK OUT, AWSOME SEASON LADIES

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