LAWRENCE — One school was going to earn the opportunity to play a third NCAA Tournament volleyball match for the first time in program history, and the atmosphere inside Allen Fieldhouse seemed to capture that anxiety — and the anticipation — during Saturday’s second-round match between Kansas and Wichita State.
By ZACHARY SPAIN
Special to The Star
Wichita State senior libero Jackie Church spent a lot of time in Allen Fieldhouse growing up, “a magical place,” she said. For Church, a Bishop Miege graduate, nothing matched the feeling on Saturday as her Shockers pulled a second consecutive upset, beating Kansas 23-25, 25-16, 25-19, 25-21.
Kansas came in as the No. 11 national seed.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” Church said.
Wichita State, 24-9, overcame a 2-0 deficit against Arkansas on Friday in pulling off a five-set win, but the Shockers seemed anything but exhausted after a close first set against the Jayhawks.
The Shockers took control of the match in the second set, with runs of seven and five points as the Jayhawks, 26-8, committed nine errors.
The lack of accurate passing doomed Kansas, coach Ray Bechard said.
“The NCAA Tournament comes to an abrupt end when you don’t play well, or play as well as you’d like,” he said. “But there will come a time where we’ll understand what we’ve accomplished. But it probably won’t be for a little while.”
It was a season of firsts for the Jayhawks: among them a first national seed and the best winning percentage in school history. And Allen Fieldhouse, in which Kansas hadn’t hosted a volleyball match since 1999, drew the largest two-day attendance of any host site this season — the first time the Jayhawks have ever played host to NCAA Tournament volleyball.
“This has been the most enjoyable ride we’ve had in Kansas volleyball history,” Bechard said.
But it ended Saturday, short of a round of 16 appearance.
The Shockers, meanwhile, advance to the regional semifinal in Austin, Texas, where they will face No. 6 overall seed Southern California. The Trojans, 28-5, did not lose a set in wins over Fairfield and St. Mary’s (Calif.) in the first two rounds — which included taking five of six sets by six points or more.
But the Shockers are used to such a challenge, coach Chris Lamb said.
“Our motto lately is ‘we’re great against strangers,’ ” he said. “The Shockers are going to be loose. I can’t wait. We’ve taken that next step.
“I’ve been around this place for 13 years and we’ve had little goals and we’ve achieved goals along the way, been to the tourney a few times. But it’s not how far you get, it’s who you get to.”
After the first set, Kansas was often stifled at the net. The Shockers had 20 blocks, led by Ashley Andrade’s nine. She also added a team-best 18 kills.
Sara McClinton had 18 kills for Kansas, which was often forced to settle with less powerful attacks as Wichita State tracked KU hitters and consistently had two blockers ready.
“It was difficult at times for us to find that rhythm and stride we had so often this season,” said blocker Tayler Tolefree. “They were coming after us.”