LAWRENCE — Chelsea Albers, playing against her hometown team and Tiana Dockery, an unexpected hero, played key roles in leading Kansas volleyball to a four-set victory against Creighton that put the Jayhawks in the NCAA Sweet 16.
By MIKE STRAUSS
Special to The Star
The Jayhawks posted a 25-20, 22-25, 25-22, 25-21 victory Saturday night in Allen Fieldhouse, reaching the NCAA Tournament’s third round for the first time in five tries. Last year, KU lost a second-round match to in-state opponent Wichita State and the senior-laden Jayhawks were motivated to reach further this season.
“It was tough last year and we didn’t forget that feeling,” Kansas coach Ray Bechard said. “That’s what made it so cool tonight, the joy in that fieldhouse.”
Creighton, which does not list a senior on its roster, was also trying to reach the round of 16 for the first time.
“(Kansas is) a senior-laden team and I thought they played like it tonight,” Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said.
Tied one set apiece, Kansas held on in the key third set. The Jayhawks led 21-17 after consecutive points, which brought the crowd of 3,052 to its feet. After a Creighton timeout, the Bluejays rallied for five of the next six points to tie the set at 22. However, a service error by Creighton and then consecutive kills by KU’s Dockery and Albers finished the set.
Dockery, a sophomore outside hitter, had not recorded double-digit kills in any of the previous 15 KU games, but tallied 14 kills, including scoring three of KU’s final five points in the decisive third set.
“Dockery was good,” Bechard said. “It was a pressure situation and she was ready for that. She took a lot of good swings and was instrumental in a key block at the end. That’s what makes this team so special. We have got depth in a lot of positions that we can go to when we need to.”
Dockery was just happy to win for her seven senior teammates.
“I felt the vibe of the team was ‘Doc, you got to go in and you have to fight hard’,” she said. “The seniors wanted this so much and we needed to fight for them. We had to step up big time. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t have won.”
Kansas controlled the fourth set, racing out to a 5-1 lead and then holding a 17-11 advantage late. Creighton rallied to cut the margin to 23-21, but a Bluejays service error and a Kansas block gave the Jayhawks a 25-21 win.
Albers, from Papillion, Neb., bettered the career-high 17-kill total she posted in the first round of the tournament Friday with 18 against the Bluejays.
Kansas next plays Friday in Los Angeles.
“We talked about having a significant year,” Jayhawks senior Erin McNorton said. “Advancing to the Sweet 16 was part of that, getting second in the Big 12 was part of that and we aren’t done.”