No. 9 Kansas volleyball drops five-set thriller to No. 5 Texas

Jayhawks lose ground in bid to defend Big 12 championship

LAWRENCE — The Kansas volleyball team’s road to a successful Big 12 title defense just got a lot more difficult.

 

The No. 9-ranked Jayhawks lost a five-set thriller to No. 5 Texas, 25-21, 25-27, 18-25, 25-10, 18-16, on Wednesday night at Horejsi Family Athletics Center. KU couldn’t capitalize on a two-sets-to-one lead nor an opportunity at match point in the decisive fifth set.

It is the third straight year of a five-set matchup between the two powerhouses in Lawrence. The last two winners (Texas in 2015, KU in ’16) have gone on to win the Big 12.

“There’s disappointment,” KU coach Ray Bechard said. “We’ve been preparing diligently for this match and it’s important because we have a bunch of Texas kids on our roster and our team wants to win another championship. I think they realize there was some good effort and I think they realize we got tentative at some key spots. We have an opportunity to learn from that.”

The Jayhawks (16-3, 5-1 Big 12) got 20 kills from Madison Rigdon — including nine in the fifth and final set — but couldn’t overcome the match-high 21 kills posted by Texas freshman phenom Lexi Sun.

“Rigdon, she’s a stud,” Bechard said. “She’s going to go down swingin’. She wasn’t tentative.”

Trailing 15-14 in the fifth, the Longhorns scored on a kill from Micaya White and an attack error on Rigdon to take the one-point lead. A Texas serve error — one of 15 for the Longhorns on the evening — made it 16-all, but a Sun kill and an attack error on KU’s Jada Burse gave Texas (13-2, 5-0) the 18-16 set victory and the critical match win.

“I guess that’s why we play,” Bechard said, “so we can learn from moments like this.”

Kelsie Payne (16) and Burse (13) also reached double-digit kills for the Jayhawks, who struggled to the tune of a .156 attack percentage. Allie Nelson had a match-high 28 digs for KU, which couldn’t finish after jumping out to a two-sets-to-one lead.

The Jayhawks took the first set, 25-21, on a kill by Burse, one of five for the sophomore outside hitter in the first frame. Nursing a 21-18 lead, Ainise Havili and Rigdon notched back-to-back kills to give KU a comfortable five-point edge. Nelson tallied eight digs in Set 1.

The Longhorns rebounded to take a wild second set, 27-25, despite committing eight serve errors in the frame. KU led 25-24 and had an opportunity to take a two-set lead, but back-to-back kills by Sun and White gave Texas set point, and an attack error by KU’s Zoe Hill gave the Longhorns the match-tying victory. White had seven kills in the frame for Texas, which overcame a 22-18 deficit.

KU gained separation late in Set 3 en route to a 25-18 victory. Locked at 16-all, the Jayhawks reeled off a 5-0 run, spurred by a pair of Hill kills and three Longhorn attack errors. Two kills apiece from Payne and Rigdon capped a 9-2 run and gave KU the frame, including Rigdon’s match-winner. Payne also had a nifty kick save late that resulted in a point and a 23-17 edge.

“The second set could’ve been really, really deflating,” Bechard said, “but we did play well in the third.”

Texas thoroughly dominated Set 4 to win the frame 25-10 and force the decisive fifth set. The Longhorns took firm control with a 9-0 run early, spurred by the first of six Sun kills in the frame. The run ended with Texas up 13-4, and another Sun kill would later cap the set.

Havili, a senior setter, finished with 50 assists in the match, putting her at 4,801 and moving her past Andi Rozum for No. 1 on the Jayhawks’ all-time career assists list.

KU gets a week off before it will look to rebound with an 8 p.m. Oct. 18 matchup against Baylor in Waco, Texas. The Jayhawks’ next matchup with the Longhorns comes at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 in Austin.

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