MANHATTAN — The Kansas volleyball team was feeling the heat. Not just from the sweltering conditions in Ahearn Fieldhouse with no air conditioning on a hot Sunday afternoon, but from the Kansas State team and a rowdy crowd of 3,325 in the Sunflower Showdown.
After dropping the first set, K-State got rolling and won two straight sets before No. 12-ranked KU rallied to post a 3-2 victory (25-20, 21-26, 22-25, 25-15, 16-14) in a Big 12 Conference match.
“I think that’s going to be life in the Big 12 this year,” KU coach Ray Bechard said. “K-State played hard and Kansas played hard. I think that’s the best match we’ve had to go down to 16-14 in the fifth. We caught a couple of breaks and made some plays.
“Momentum was going both ways. It looked like we were out of it after being down 2-1 and then played about as well as we have all year in the fourth set.”
The Jayhawks, 12-2 overall and 1-0 conference, maintained their poise with a veteran roster led by setter Ainise Havili and hitters Kelsie Payne and Madison Rigdon.
“They didn’t give up hope,” Bechard said. “Sometimes the tendency is you need to do more and you need to do more, but for this group today it was, ‘I can help our team if I do this.’
“As long as you have Havili out there running the show, you always have a chance. She really started connecting faster offense in the fourth set and that set us up for the fifth set.”
The Wildcats (8-7, 1-1 Big 12) had won six of their past eight matches but are still in the growing process with only one senior on the roster.
“It was a tough loss,” said Peyton Williams, the freshman middle blocker who led K-State with 14 kills. “We played our hearts out and really wanted that one.”
Williams had four kills in K-State’s Set 2 win and five in Set 3, including two during a decisive 11-1 run that staked the Wildcats to an 18-13 lead.
The Jayhawks regrouped, grabbing an 11-6 lead in Set 4 and closing the set by winning six of the final eight points.
The Jayhawks built a 5-1 led in Set 5 but the Wildcats rallied and were up 9-7 on a pair of kills from Brynn Carlson, but Jada Burse had back-to-back kills to pull KU even at 9-9. It was tied at 14 but KU claimed the victory with kills from Payne and Rigdon.
“We got off to a good lead in the fifth set and back they come,” Bechard said. “Just great volleyball with both teams hitting at a high level percentage-wise, and we ended up getting enough touches and stops in the end to make it happen.”
Rigdon led KU with 18 kills while Payne had 14. Havili had 55 assists, 10 digs and 8 kills.
Williams had three block assists along with her 14 kills while Alyssa Schultejans and Bryna Vogel had 13 kills apiece.
“We had a slump and it was hard for us to get over it,” Williams said of the final two sets. “We play a little scared sometimes but if we stick to what we did in the second and third sets we’ll be all right.”
Contact Ken Corbitt at (785) 295-1123 or @KenCorbitt on Twitter.